NHS meeting

NHS trust to improve digital messaging for deaf and deafblind patients

Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS FT has launched a deaf digital inclusion project, to find the best practice for communicating with deaf and deafblind patients.

The project will look at the barriers faced by the patients around digital communications, and how to help the staff become more deaf aware.

The deaf and deafblind patients supported by the trust, their carers, staff, and members of deaf wellbeing groups and networks, are taking part in the project to help provide the best digital communications support to meet deaf patients’ needs.

The project is led by the trust’s deaf services team which provides a range of support to deaf and deafblind people aged 18 and over, who mainly use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate, who also have mental health problems.

During the pandemic, BSL signing members of the team have supported patients using Attend Anywhere online video consultations and facilitated other clinicians to use this platform with BSL interpreters.

Emmanuel Chan, Clinical Nurse Specialist for the deaf services team, said: “Patients have told us they’re getting the hang of online video appointments. For many, the appointments have been a great help when social distancing. And the wearing of face coverings has been a requirement in face-to-face contacts – being able to see their doctor or nurse’s face without their mask, alongside their BSL interpreter is a great help.”

The video appointments have however also presented some challenges for the patients on both a practical and accessibility level.

Mr Chan explained: “People who are oral and require lip reading can find video appointments a challenge if others on the call are not fully deaf aware and talk over one another. Alongside our project, our team aims to help our staff become more deaf aware to avoid this happening.”

As well as looking at the practicalities of video appointments, the deaf digital inclusion project has started exploring digital barriers to deaf and deafblind patients, including digital poverty, infrastructures, connectivity and individual preferences, and how these can be overcome. To enhance the confidence, awareness and skills for patients’ and their families’, and carers’, the project has offered a series of training sessions.

A further series of online deaf awareness sessions supported by Deaf people will be held during deaf awareness week (3 – 9 May) for anyone interested in learning more about deaf awareness, Deaf people’s experience during the pandemic, and lessons that could be learned to improve their access to digital communications.

Mr Chan added “We have increasingly offered video appointments to patients over the last year but have found some deaf and deafblind patients have declined this option.

“We are exploring whether this is down to a perceived lack of skills or confidence, or whether this could relate to the nature of BSL. As sign language is a visual spatial language, communication on video could reduce some of its cues and components.

“We have found that around half of our Deaf BSL users do not have access to the internet and / or smart technology and public amenities such as libraries and community centres have been closed during the pandemic.

“Under the project, we have been able to provide tablets for patients to use and we are offering sessions to help people try out the kit and have a go at online video appointments before they meet their clinician online. We have also had support from the trust’s Attend Anywhere team offering top tips to support our patients.”

Craig Jones, chief executive officer, Rare Rockets, who supported the awareness sessions, said “The importance of delivering digital training to a group of Deaf people who are classed as vulnerable due to their lack of cyber awareness, which is of no fault of their own, is vital to their social interaction and inclusion needs.

“We live in a digital world, emerging at a fast pace, where the vast majority of people cannot keep up with the pace of changes occurring, it is imperative that Deaf people are not excluded from information that has an impact on their daily lives.

“It is fabulous to see TEWV recognise this fundamental importance and is bringing together deaf people to feel not only included but to understand the technical aspects in the digital era.”

A range of organisations and individuals have taken part in the awareness sessions and feedback has been positive.

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