Virgin Media launch sign language service

10 April 2014   By Julia Kukiewicz

VIRGIN Media have launched a sign language service to help their deaf customers.

virgin media shop sign
Credit: Jevanto Productions/

The Video Relay Service allows Virgin Media subscribers to communicate with the company's customer service department through a qualified sign language interpreter from Sign Solutions, a well respected British Sign Language (BSL)/English service.

It's vital that deaf people who use sign language are able to contact companies using their natural method of communication.
Charlie Swinbourne, Editor
The Limping Chicken

"It's vital that deaf people who use sign language are able to contact companies using their natural method of communication, so it's fantastic that Virgin and Sign Solutions have teamed up to make this a reality," Charlie Swinbourne, Editor of deaf news site The Limping Chicken told us.

Although many assume that BSL is a visual representation of English, it's actually a complex language in itself.

Just like foreign language speakers, then, deaf people with BSL as a first language might struggle to use written forms of contact, like email or live chat.

"[Video Relay] will make finding the right media package and resolving any problems much easier," Swinbourne told us, "and it's a great example to other media providers who should aim to match this commitment."

Better help for deaf customers

Virgin Media customers who want to take advantage of the new option will need to download a 11.1MB WebPhone browser plug-in from the Virgin Media site (see links on the right).

They'll also need a webcam and at least 1Mb broadband speeds, although that shouldn't be a problem for Virgin Media subscribers.

Sign language interpreters are available weekdays from 9 to 5 and, outside of those times, subscribers can leave a video message so that an interpreter can call back.

Contact ISPs using BSL

BT have had a sign language option available using a service provided by Sign Video since 2011.

Sky bought in their own BSL option from Sign Video at the end of last year on a three month trial basis, though now, more than six months later, the service still seems to be available in the trial period.

Neither TalkTalk nor EE have any sign language contact options available and, judging by forum comments, the latter's communication options for deaf customers appear to have dwindled over the past few months.

Other contact options for deaf customers

All of the big phone, broadband and pay TV companies offer Text Relay, the national telephone service that connects people using a textphone with people using a telephone by converting text messages to voice.

From next Friday - the 18th - Text Relay users will be able to have faster, more fluent conversations and use more devices to access the service with the launch of BT's 'next generation' service.

Some, like Virgin Media, also offer web chat channels for customers to communicate with customer and technical support staff through instant messaging.

Most also offer at least some support by email.

Providers whose contact centre staff can use BSL interpreting services probably have an advantage over most, however, since staff will have had to undertake at least some deaf awareness training and should know, for example, not to call a customer who has already made their needs clear, a problem we've occasionally heard about some companies.

Still waiting on equal access

Although all these developments make it easier for deaf and hard of hearing people to contact their communications providers, however, they don't necessarily improve the products those providers are selling.

How the big companies compare here

As Action on Hearing Loss have written on this site before, there is still a lot of work to be done to make TV in particular more accessible to deaf viewers.

The charity is pushing for 100% subtitling on all Freeview channels and for a legal obligation for companies to provide subtitles on streaming (on demand) content.

A US court case forced Netflix to bring in subtitling on their programming but neither they nor Amazon video (previously Lovefilm) seem likely to make a similarly large commitment to their subtitle using viewers in the near future.

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