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UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Unique British Sign Language Video-Server
Puts UK's Deaf Entrepreneurs In The Picture


Groundbreaking project enhances business opportunities for deaf people
in the UK

For the first time deaf entrepreneurs and business people will be able to have easy
access to business advice and guidance in their own language, British Sign Language (BSL), thanks to the development of the world's first sign language information service, SignWorks. Through the use of a videophone deaf people can reach this innovative information service 24-hours a day.

The service, which is backed by the DTI-led UK online for business programme,
was launched via a video link in London today, Thursday 12 October 2000,
by Patricia Hewitt, Minister for Small Business and E-commerce.

Deaf people have been successful in many walks of life but business start-ups
have been rare in the deaf community. SignWorks aims to improve significantly
the support provided to deaf business.

At the heart of the service is a video-server, accessed by a desktop videophone
which runs over BT Highway or ISDN lines. The video-server has been developed
to provide more than 20-hours of signed business information. The videophone
keypad allows users to navigate through a menu of information to reach specific
advice when starting up a business, such as legal or tax questions, managing cash
flow and how to conduct market research.

A facility for video signmail on the videophone has also been set up. This enables
video messages to be stored in sign language, which can be retrieved and viewed
anytime by the recipient.

At the official launch of the project, Jeff McWhinney, Chief Executive at the
British Deaf Association, said: 'The videophone will make live conversation much
easier and quicker. It will enable Deaf people to communicate in their own language
British Sign Language and has the potential to revolutionise the way they access
information which hearing people take for granted.'

Says Jim Kyle, Director of the Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol:
'This development is on a par with Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone
which enabled hearing people to communicate with each other. For the first time,
deaf people can communicate on an equal standing, as well as receive information
in their own language, through the medium of the videophone.

Added Kyle: 'Videophones linked to video-servers have enormous potential and
can be applied to offer access to a range of services for deaf people. The SignWorks
project team is already experimenting with health guides, employment information and
citizens' advice.'

Notes to Editors:

SignWorks is a three-year project that was set up in January 1998. At the start of the project 20 videophones were issued to deaf individuals and organisations to enable live signed business conversations. Remote interpreting trials, where the deaf person can interact with a hearing person using a sign language interpreter located in a different part of the country, have been successfully conducted.

The SignWorks project team includes the University of Bristol's Centre for Deaf Studies, who developed the content for the video-server; the Deaf Studies Trust, which aims to enhance the lives of deaf people; videophone and video-server designers Motion Media; deaf consultants Doug Alker Associates; and the Forest Bookshop who publish resource materials for the deaf community.

The SignWorks project is funded by the DTI-led UK online for business programme. UK online for business (formerly the Information Society Initiative) has been running since 1996. It currently has a network of several hundred UK online for business advisers and offers accessible, independent, jargon-free advice to SMEs to help them find the right commercial solutions to meet their business needs.

Details about the SignWorks project can be found at http://www.sign-works.org.uk

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Email: communications-office@bristol.ac.uk
Copyright: 2000 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Friday, 20-Oct-2000 09:55:50 BST