Internet based interpreting service saved a man’s life

SignTranslate On-Line Sign Language InterpretingIf we needed any further proof of how important the internet has become, this is it…

Deaf patient Bartholomew Kelley usually asked his daughter to interpret on any visits to the Doctors. But he suddenly became ill while his daughter was away on holiday and he knew he couldn’t put off going to see his GP. He was suffering from chest pains.

When he turned up at his surgery without an appointment, Dr Shaikh of the Peel Precinct Surgery in Carlton Vale London used an online sign language service to diagnose a serious heart condition.

Bartholomew is profoundly deaf and his first language is British Sign Language [BSL]. Luckily for Bartholomew, Dr Shaikh had very recently set up his surgery to use an on-line interpreting service, SignTranslate, which uses a simple webcam to link with a live qualified BSL interpreter. The Doctor speaks to the interpreter on the phone, and the interpreter and Deaf patient sign the conversation.

Dr Shaikh said “It was brilliant. As soon as Bartholomew started telling me through the interpreter about his symptoms I realised that his chest pains were serious. I called an ambulance and got him into hospital”. The whole process took less than 10 minutes.

The translation service, SignTranslate, is owned by healthcare charity for the Deaf, SignHealth. SignHealth is a UK charity focused on improving the mental and physical health of Deaf people.

Chief Executive of SignHealth, Steve Powell, said that Bartholomew’s situation was not a unique one;

“Every day a Deaf person will attend a health consultation with no interpreter, often relying on family or friends to communicate a diagnosis or treatment. We know that inadequate communication presents a risk to a Deaf patient and we also know that interpreters are rarely available for same day or urgent appointments. Bartholomew was lucky that his GP had an on-line solution to hand.”

All surgeries in the country already have access to the service, free of charge; they just pay a small charge for the online minutes used.

The only technology needed to use the service is broadband internet and a webcam, so it is extremely accessible for anyone with a computer.

If you would like to find out more about SignHealth or their brilliant translation service SignTranslate, please visit or


Corrie star William Roache talks about life and hearing loss


Elixir was at the Sound Barrier Awards last week to see Corrie favourite William Roache OBE speak about hearing loss and pay tribute to the worthy winner of the title of Specsavers ‘Sound Barrier Star’.

The event, also sponsored by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, celebrates people with some form of hearing loss who have not let their condition stand in their way.

Before introducing each of the nominees William, better known for his role as Corrie favourite Ken Barlow, said a few words about his partial hearing loss and the surprising fact that only 10% of people will ever have a hearing test, in comparison with the 80% who get their eyes tested.

The ‘Sound Barrier Star’, Roger Hewitt, from Bromley, accepted his prize with a very humorous and humbling speech. He has been deaf since the age of 6 as a result of contracting meningitis and now is an ambassador, volunteer and consultant for the cause. It certainly seems like he has never let his deafness affect his life and is an example for us all.

We caught up with William for a quick chat afterwards. He told us that he suffered some ear damage from a mortar bomb as a 21 year old in the army; his hearing came back after 3 weeks but he never realised the extent of the damage until recently. After having a hearing test he was told that he had 50% hearing loss. William confided that he has hearing aids but he doesn’t use them very often at all. He doesn’t feel like his hearing loss is a barrier in any way to his life.

William is lucky to have enjoyed enviable longevity onscreen as Ken Barlow; only Don Hastings, who plays Bob Hughes on US show ‘As The World Turns’, has dedicated a longer service to Soap-dom. William confirmed that he loves playing Ken and is very proud to still be in Corrie after all these years. It’s a long day on set – 8am to 7pm – but he hasn’t got fed up of it yet!

The evolution of Corrie into the nation’s longest running soap is something which would have surprised the creators of the programme 50 years ago: William remarked that the name of ‘soap’ was something which Coronation Street had tried to avoid for many years – having marketed themselves as a cutting-edge drama series to begin with.

We concluded that one of the refreshing things about soaps, or cutting edge drama series (!), is that they do resemble ordinary people’s lives in some way – you are allowed to get older on screen and the more senior characters become something of an institution rather than fading into the background.  

To learn more about Specsavers hearing centres, or to book a hearing test, please visit


Actress Stephanie Beacham campaigns for hearing loss “stars”


London: Actress Stephanie Beacham has launched a new award to highlight the achievements of those who are deaf and partially deaf.

And at the first ceremony of the Sound Barrier Awards, sponsored by UK company Specsavers and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People people from across the UK were congratulated for their achievements.

Stephanie, who is partially deaf in one ear, and has gone on to have a successful acting career including roles in blockbusters such as Dynasty, said that deafness was not a disability but a frustration which it is possible to overcome.

Sixty-six Adam Wilson rom East Grinstead, Surrey is named the Sound Barrier Star of the Year 2009. He is pictured with his hearing dog Baxter and Stephanie.

The national competition run by Specsavers hearing centres in association with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, recognises achievement in the deaf or hard of hearing. Mr Wilson, 66 lost his hearing due to osteosclerosis at the age of 32. Losing his hearing affected him deeply and he became reclusive and felt isolated.

Says Mr Wilson: ‘I went through a really low point. I could have given in but I picked myself up and decided to face my hearing loss head on.’

Adam now gives regular talks about hearing loss in support of charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It was after giving a talk to the Crawley Air Cadets that the young people he spoke to decided to nominate him for a Sound Barrier Star Award.

Actress Stephanie Beacham presented Mr Wilson with his award at the ceremony in London on Thursday 17 September. She says: ‘Adam is a thoroughly deserving winner. His story is a perfect example of why we set up the awards up in the first place and it was a real delight to meet him.’

Mr Wilson says: ‘I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to do more in raising deaf awareness – this is really what this is all about. Teenagers get such a bad press and it is a lovely feeling to have got through to them.’

The award Mr Wilson received also included a prize of a luxury two-week all-inclusive cruise from Phoenix Holidays, the UK’s leading river cruise specialist, and £1,500 in vouchers from Specsavers.

Air Cadets CO Helen Dudley says: ‘The children were so moved by Adam’s story. He is a remarkably brave individual and an excellent role model.’

Mr Wilson has also written a book in aid of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People in which his hearing dog Baxter tells stories. He has sold hundreds of copies and aims to make up to £5,000 for the charity.

Mr Wilson continues: ‘Specsavers has been fantastic in raising awareness of the challenges people face with hearing loss. I remember one incident before I got Baxter. When a fire alarm went off at a hotel I was in, I couldn’t hear it and only woke up by the flashing lights of the fire engine.’

Mr Wilson attended the grand final with four other national finalists (pictured) from across the UK. They were interviewed by judges Stephanie Beacham, Julie Perkins from Specsavers, Judy Cogan and Jenny Smith from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.

Specsavers donated £5 to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People for every entry. Hearing dogs help transform the lives of their deaf owners by alerting them to sounds that those with good hearing take for granted, allowing them greater independence, confidence and security.


Free holiday ear protectors from Specsavers


London: Are you fed up with ear painwhen a plane takes off or lands? That’s the sound of permanent damage to your hearing.

Specsavers hearing centres has joined with Elxir to offer ten pairs of hearing protectors worth £15 each.The instant-fit hearing protectors are small and discreet and will protect your ears from the pressure of taking off, landing and background engine noise.

The special acoustic filters in the FlyFit earplugs protect you against excessive ambient noise. During a flight, the unpleasant pressure on the eardrum during landing and takeoff is carefully regulated.

Specsavers also offers custom fit hearing protectors, suited to those regularly working in noisy environments. For more information on these or to locate your nearest Specsavers hearing centre, please visit call 0808 143 1143.

For your chance to win a set of FlyFit Hearing Protectors please answer the following question, Which famous optical chain also offers a hearing service?

Please email your answer to us at with “Ear” in the header and your name and address by 31 May 2009. Please note that no cash equivalent is offered and the Editor’s decision is fina.

About Specsavers
• Specsavers was founded by Doug and Dame Mary Perkins in 1984 and is now the largest privately owned opticians in the world
• The couple still run the company, along with their three children. Their eldest son John is joint managing director
• Specsavers has more than 1,060 stores throughout the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Spain and Australia
• Annual turnover for the Specsavers Group is forecast to reach a record £1.05 billion for the financial year 2008/9
• The group plans to continue its successful international expansion by opening stores in New Zealand
• Specsavers optical stores and hearing centres are owned and run by joint venture or franchise partners.
• Specsavers employs more than 26,000 staff
• Specsavers was voted Britain’s most trusted brand of opticians for the seventh year running by Reader’s Digest in 2008
• One in three people who wear glasses in the UK buy them from Specsavers Opticians – eight and a half million glasses were sold during 2007
• Specsavers is the largest retail provider of home delivery contact lenses in Europe and one of the top two retail suppliers of continuous wear lenses in the world
• Specsavers is now the largest retail dispenser of digital hearing aids in the UK and will offer a hearing service from more than 400 locations by the end of 2008
• Specsavers supports numerous optical and hearing charities, including Diabetes UK, for whom they have raised more than £250,000 to fund research into diabetic retinopathy
• Since 2003 a quarter of a million glasses have been collected and recycled by Specsavers stores for Vision Aid Overseas for use in developing countries


Gene therapy may offer cure for deafness

London: Research published this week in the journal Nature gives millions of deaf and hard of hearing people new hope of new gene or drug treatments for deafness and has been welcomed as a significant breakthrough by the country’s only medical research charity for deaf people, Deafness Research UK.

Deafness Research UK Research Advisory Panel member, Professor Guy Richardson, praised the work as “a technical tour de force, and very convincing proof of the principle that gene therapy could, at least in certain cases, be used to cure deafness”.

There are nine million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK and in most cases deafness results from loss of sensory cells in the inner ear known as “hair” cells. The cells can be damaged and lost through ageing, noise, genetic defects and certain drugs and, because the cells don’t regenerate, the result is progressive – and irreversible – hearing loss. Damage to these cells can also lead to tinnitus which affects around 5 million people in the UK.

The latest research, by a team at the Oregon Health & Science University, shows that a key gene known as Atoh1 (also known as Math1) can not only cause cells to develop into hair cells but that these cells function like normal hair cells.

Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK said: “This is an important and exciting step along the road towards an effective medical treatment for deafness. Deafness Research UK has a long history of supporting research into the repair and regeneration of the sensory cells in the inner ear, including work on the Atoh1 gene and on the use of stem cells to restore hearing. We will continue to work towards getting a cure for unwanted deafness into the clinic.”

John Brigande, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology at the Oregon Hearing Research Center in the OHSU School of Medicine said “Our work shows that it is possible to produce functional auditory hair cells in the mammalian cochlea.”

Brigande and colleagues were able to produce hair cells by transferring a key gene called Atoh1 (also known as Math-1) into ‘progenitor’ cells in the inner ear of developing mice. This type of cell becomes specialised to perform different functions during development, according to the instructions they receive from genes. The gene Atoh1 is known to turn progenitor cells into hair cells, but it was not previously known whether the hair cells would work normally if Atoh1 was introduced artificially.

To find out, the team inserted Atoh1 into progenitor cells along with a fluorescent protein molecule that is often used in research as a marker, to make cells easily visible. They were then able to see that the gene transfer technique resulted in mice being born with more hair cells in the cochlea than are normally found.

Crucially, Dr. Anthony Ricci, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, demonstrated that the gene-treated hair cells function like ordinary hair cells.

Stem cells are a type of progenitor and so can be instructed by genes to become a specific cell-type. One obstacle in the way of stem cell research has been ethical objection to the use of embryonic stem cells. However, researchers at Sheffield University supported by Deafness Research UK are currently working on extracting stem cells from the bone marrow and blood that are found in the umbilical cord, with the aim of turning them into hair cells that could be inserted into the cochlea. The umbilical cells are in rich supply and avoid the ethical issues surrounding the embryonic cells.

About Deafness Research UK

” Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people.
” The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus.
” The Deafness Research UK Information Service provides free information and advice based on the latest scientific evidence and informed by leading experts. The Information Service can be contacted on Freephone 0808 808 2222
” For more information on research into deafness, tinnitus and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at you can access a wide range of information. Alternatively you can e-mail Deafness Research UK at

” One in seven people in the UK – almost nine million people – suffer hearing loss.
” Deafness Research UK was founded in 1985 by Lord (Jack) and Lady Ashley of Stoke.
” In January 2008, Action for Tinnitus Research (ATR) was linked with

Deafness Research UK under a uniting direction order under Section 96 (6) of the Charities Act 1993.