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Using communication support

There are different types of communication support available for people who have hearing loss, are deaf and are deafblind. Read more about when you can use communication support and the different types available. 

When to use communication support 

If you are deaf, deafblind or have hearing loss, employers and public service providers can arrange communication support for you. This can be for situations such as: 

  • job interviews 
  • work meetings and training courses
  • university or college lectures or seminars
  • GP, optician or hospital appointments 
  • meetings with bank managers, solicitors and government officials. 

If you are deafblind (have both sight loss and hearing loss), you can also get communication support to help you with your daily routine.

It’s the responsibility of your employer or public service provider to pay for communication support if you need it. Find out more about funding and how to book communication support.

Always choose a registered communication professional when booking communication support. Find out why this is important and how to check if professionals are registered.

Types of communication support 

Find out about the different types of communication support available. You can read more by downloading our leaflet Using communication support.

Sign language interpreters 

Sign language interpreters enable communication between deaf sign language users and hearing people. In Great Britain, most people who use sign language use British Sign Language (BSL), but in Northern Ireland, Irish Sign Language (ISL) is also used. 

Video interpreting 

Although most interpreting is done face to face, some organisations now offer a video interpreting service. This can be helpful if you need an interpreter at short notice or for brief appointments. You can use the service if you have a computer or tablet device with a webcam and an internet connection, or a videophone.


Interpreters and communicator guides for people who are deafblind 

Interpreters and communicator guides help people who are deafblind to communicate with people who are hearing. They work with a range of communication methods, including: 

  • British Sign Language (BSL). 
  • Hands-on signing. Some people who were born deaf and then experience sight loss as an adult continue to use sign language when they can no longer follow visual signs. They do this by touching the hands of the person who’s signing and following their movements. 
  • The block alphabet. This is when a hearing person uses the tip of their forefinger to spell out each word in English, in block capitals, on the receiver’s palm. 
  • The deafblind manual alphabet. This involves spelling out words on someone’s hand using the BSL fingerspelling alphabet. 

Interpreters provide support in formal settings, such as training courses and medical appointments. Communicator guides work more informally, helping with everyday activities such as shopping and dealing with mail.


Lipspeakers 

Lipspeakers work with people who are deaf or have hearing loss who prefer to communicate through lipreading and speech. To use a lipspeaker, you need to be a confident lipreader with good English skills. 

Lipspeakers: 

  • repeat what is said without using their voice, so you can lipread them easily 
  • produce the shape of words clearly, with the flow, rhythm and phrasing of speech 
  • use natural gestures and facial expressions to help you follow what’s being said 
  • may also use fingerspelling if you ask them to.

Speech-to-text reporters 

Speech-to-text reporting (STTR) is suitable for people who are deaf or have hearing loss and are comfortable reading English, often at high speed and sometimes for up to a couple of hours at a time.

An STTR types every word that’s spoken and the text appears on a laptop screen, or on one large screen or more if several people are using the service. 

Remote STTRs 

Some STTRs work remotely (from home or another office). They use a telephone link to listen in to the meeting. They send the text directly to a computer screen, or other suitable device, using secure, screenshare software. This option isn’t suitable for sensitive situations where a misunderstanding could have serious results, such as during legal meetings.


Notetakers

Electronic and manual notetakers work with people who are deaf or have hearing loss and are comfortable reading English. They either type a real-time summary of what’s being said on a laptop computer, or take handwritten notes. 

It’s quite common to use a notetaker alongside another communication support service. For example, if you’re watching a sign language interpreter or lipspeaker, it would be impossible for you to take notes and follow what’s being said at the same time. Notetakers may specialise in a particular field. If you’re taking a science degree, for example, it’s important that your notetaker knows something about the subject. For this reason, you may need to spend time finding the right notetaker to support you.