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7th Jul, 2022

Warwickshire deaf community fears losing its voice

DEAF people in Warwickshire fear losing their voice after council chiefs ditched an interpreter service it had used for over 20 years.

Coventry and Warwickshire Sign Language and Interpreting Service (CWSLIS) was contracted by Warwickshire County Council to provide a free service to the county’s deaf community.

But many deaf people were furious to learn the contract had been awarded to ‘BID Services’ in Birmingham.

Ruth Brooks, secretary of Stratford Deaf Group, explained members found the CWLSIS interpreters familiar and reliable, and they used regional sign language – something that exists in British Sign Language as it does in spoken language.

She said: “The group is still angry with the council for not letting us know the sudden change of the interpreter services. I had sent lots of emails asking what was happening when I heard rumours, but it only replied after I asked for a CWSLIS interpreter for parents evening. The group is not happy.”

Other service users have also raised their concerns.

Paul – who suffers with mental health issues – said CWSLIS interpreters understood his anxiety and could handle his emotional difficulties, while Ann – who is partially blind – relied on CWSLIS interpreters regularly because they were experienced in reading her sign language which differed with her poor sight.

A county council spokesman said the switch was simply ‘procedural’ after the contract with CWSLIS had come to an end.

He said: “All bidders were required to submit a price, all bidders that passed this requirement were then evaluated for quality and the contract was awarded to the bidder with the highest quality score.

“There is no change to this service, and the support available to customers. However the council and BID are happy to work with people who may have questions about the change.

“The council is liaising with customers to offer opportunities to explain the contract process, introduce the new provider, and respond to specific queries.

“The council is committed to ensuring that Warwickshire’s services are accessible to members of the community and that high quality BSL interpretation is delivered to enable this.”

It is not the first time the community has been upset by a ‘deterioration’ in its interpreter service. In 2011 the community enlisted Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi to help them campaign for the return of CWSLIS services to Warwick Hospital.

During a meeting, members told Mr Zahawi they were unable to properly describe health problems to doctors after the South Warwickshire Foundation Trust had started using a London-based service. The trust eventually switched back to using CWSLIS interpreters.

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