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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 06:53 GMT
2.7m for more deaf interpreters
Interpreter using sign language
The scheme aims to triple the number of BSL interpreters in Wales
Plans to increase the number of sign language interpreters in Wales is being launched with a 2.7m scheme.

The British Sign Language (BSL) Futures scheme which is funded by the EU and Welsh Assembly Government is said to be the largest of its kind in the UK.

Equalities Minister Jane Hutt said it would benefit the 3,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Wales who use BSL.

As well as training 36 apprentice interpreters, it will help public service bodies and develop courses.

Interpreters help deaf sign language users with better access to services such as the NHS, the police and local councils.

There is also demand within businesses.

In 2004, an assembly task group started looking at shortages and recommended that the assembly government take action to increase the number of interpreters from 12 to 64.

We are continually frustrated by the inability to find qualified interpreters, especially at short notice
Adrian Clark, Legal and General

Ms Hutt said on Monday: "The problems people can face if there aren't interpreters available cannot be underestimated.

"There are recorded cases where sign language users have faced severe difficulties in reporting crimes; and have had to communicate with health staff in inappropriate and undignified situations".

She said it "cannot be right" that often sign language users had to wait up to eight weeks to secure an interpreter to see their GP, or discuss their child's education with a teacher.

As well as training 36 apprentice interpreters to train for qualifications, it will support another nine trainee interpreters with grants for courses.

The scheme, led by RNID Cymru, Deaf Association Wales and the Association of Sign Language Interpreters, is already recruiting the first 10 apprentices.

'Distinct need'

It will also help develop a postgraduate course in BSL/spoken language interpreting.

Julie Watkins, chair of the south Wales region of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters, said: "We see first hand the detrimental effect that the lack of interpreters has on the sign language community. This scheme will make accessible information and participation a reality."

The launch was being made at insurance group Legal and General in Cardiff, which employs six profoundly deaf staff.

Adrian Clark, company location director said: "We are extremely pleased with their work and their commitment. They are a delight to have in the company.

"However, the distinct needs of our deaf staff mean communication is critical and we are continually frustrated by the inability to find qualified interpreters, especially at short notice to allow them to function normally within the workplace."

Catrin Fletcher, director of RNID Cymru, which represents deaf and hard of hearing people in Wales, said the charity "wholeheartedly supported the scheme".

She said: "It will make social inclusion a reality for sign language users".

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