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BetterMe – Sign For Success : Support system for the hard of hearing to be piloted in Ayrshire

Posted: 16th October 2020

It was one of those moments…

‘I didn’t realise.’

‘What? You never knew?’

‘No, but wait, that has given me an idea!’


A plan was hatched, developed, discussed, talked about. The fat chewed over into the wee, wee hours. A name, Sign For Success, designed around the concept created…

Well, maybe not quite like that.

It was the realisation that Michael Jennings, a psychotherapist from Troon could use British Sign Language (BSL) that gave both he and business and wellbeing coach, Andrew Farquharson of BetterMe.Life the initial idea.

“We were just chatting,” Andrew took up the story. “Michael and I, and effectively thinking about how Michael’s expertise could be used. I knew that he did sign language (BSL) because his dad was deaf and it was sort of suggested : ‘Well why don’t you sort of reach out to the deaf community? To help them because you have an unique skill.’”

It centres around communication, visual and audio, essential in every situation we find ourselves in. It is how we understand each other in daily life – or, in fact, don’t.

They quickly recognised how things can be so easily lost in translation for those hard of hearing. Especially when they visit the doctors, or in an education setting or other social interactions they are involved in.

“We… played around with that,” Andrew continued. “Looked into specific areas and found out that the hard of hearing community in general, but severely deaf in particular, had real trouble communicating… especially when they went to places like the doctor or a medical situation.”

The two men, in their research, also discovered that while most of the general population are a bit reticent about talking to their doctor about psychological issues, this becomes massively amplified in the hard of hearing because of the communication difficulties they experience in such situations.

The men discovered that while around 20 percent of the Scottish population have hearing issues, and while around 25 percent of Scots have mental health issues, among the hard of hearing this rockets upward to 50 percent.

Clearly, the men thought, there was something significant happening in the lives of this group that needed closer attention.

“This is not a scientific thing,” Andrew said. “It is just a thought, but, because a disability in the past was seen as there was something wrong with somebody, therefore if you couldn’t hear that well you must have everything else wrong with you? Maybe this is a bit of a throwback to that?”

The men’s ideas centred around the idea of better communication channels, an app, perhaps, that could be used by a hard of hearing person while at their doctors or in another social situation. Improved communication between doctor and patient, or between people in general will, they thought, reduce anxiety levels, and make visits to the doctor less stressful.

“Initially,” Andrew said thoughtfully. “The app would be able to supply a number of short explanations and tips that a medic can show a patient who is deaf or hard of hearing. The patient would be able to download the app [and] the explanations would be delivered in four helpful ways. Signed (BSL), clear lip reading, subtitled and, of course, audio/visual form. This also means that it can be used by anyone. The app will help with communication and therefore increase wellbeing.”

The idea seemed deceptively simple and so obvious you could be forgiven for asking why no one has ever thought of it before? In practice, as both men have since realised, it might prove a bit more complex.

Andrew also pointed out that in a time of COVID-19 when we have all had to adapt to communicating with each other at a distance of two metres apart, while wearing masks or visors, how much more difficult communication has become for people in general.

Driving instructors, for example, were prevented from going back to work because there are concerns that giving instruction while wearing masks or visors to learners, also wearing masks or visors, may be misinterpreted and could cause accidents.

But both men are convinced of the need for such a service and there are now plans underway to run a pilot.

“It is our intention to pilot the plan in Ayrshire,” Andrew said. “Michael is based in Ayrshire, in Troon, and he is the BSL signer. He was also in touch with his local GP surgery and they seem to be quite interested in the subject, and…he has been in touch with other GP surgeries in the area and… they also seem quite keen to explore the idea. At the moment what they tend to do is write on a piece of paper. That is fine for a fairly straightforward question, for more complicated things it needs a long time.”

Both agree they are at the earliest stages of development so there is a feeling of experimentation as they feel their way along. So, when do they plan on having their idea operational?

“My short answer to that,” Andrew replied. “Is as soon as possible. Realistically at the very earliest, a couple of months. We are… just using things like, initially, Zoom. Just to do the sessions and recording that because neither of us are professional video makers. I am editing the bits and pieces together… on my computer. It is becoming obvious that we are going to need professional help.

“The other aspect of it is, to be quite honest, how is it funded? I mean we would love to do this for nothing, and so I am thinking around different funding methods. Maybe there is some sort of sponsorship that could be for licensing? If you are working with say the NHS do they have issues about who they work with, and if something is sponsored? I don’t know. All these sort of questions come up. But at the moment we are planning on putting together something, and that sort of funding aspect is lagging slightly behind – because neither of us have ever been in this situation before.”

Sign for Success, of course, is in its embryonic stages and both Andrew and Michael, as indicated above, have some distance to travel before their ideas are fully realised.

But both seem determined that having stumbled across the idea they are going to bring it to the market in an effort to benefit those who are usually disadvantaged when it comes to communication.


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