Research and analysis

Saleem: profoundly deaf user

Published 25 October 2017

I’m fluent in British Sign Language, but people don’t realise it’s different from English and things can be difficult for me to understand.

Saleem is 22 years old and lives with his family in Blackburn. He’s profoundly deaf and is fluent in British Sign Language (BSL).

He’s currently unemployed, and plans to get some more training at college to help him find a job. He started a catering course last year but the interpreter they provided wasn’t fully qualified and didn’t have much experience. Saleem got behind and gave up.

He isn’t very confident about learning new things. He struggles with English because of the differences with BSL in grammar and vocabulary.

Devices and technology

Saleem has an Android tablet, and loves being able to sign to his friends on video chat. He’s sharing his family’s laptop until he can afford his own.

He also has an iPhone 5 that his brother gave him. He’s tried using it for video chat but it’s harder to see what people are saying as the screen’s quite small.

Goals and wishes

Saleem wants more people to know British Sign Language (BSL). His brother signs well and his parents know a bit, but they’re the only ones in his family who do.

He’d like captions (subtitles) to make sense - sometimes they’re rubbish and you don’t know what they mean.


When content doesn’t work well for him

It’s annoying for Saleem when captions just say things like ‘music playing’ and don’t have the song words. It’s also better when they have different colours to show who’s speaking.

If there are no captions, transcripts are ok instead - but Saleem finds it difficult to read large blocks of text.

Because his English isn’t great, if something isn’t easy to understand, he needs it in BSL. He also needs search engines to correct his spelling.

When there’s no alternative for deaf people

Saleem hates it when his mum has to make phone calls for him. He can’t use a phone and his minicom broke, so he has to be able to contact people by email, chat or text.

He can’t use intercoms - he has to say “I’m deaf, I can’t hear you”, and he usually just follows someone else through the door.

Saleem usually has to enter his mobile number when he’s filling in a form, but there’s no space for him to say he prefers to get text messages to calls.

Making things better for Saleem

What to do Further reading
Let people choose a way of contacting you that suits them best - and offer a BSL sign relay service for those who need it. DWP services more accessible thanks to new British Sign Language pilot, press release on GOV.UK.
Provide communication support like BSL interpreters if you offer face-to-face appointments. Always ask people what works best for them. Information on registration for communication professionals like interpreters.
Write in plain English and break up content with things like headings and lists. Use the ‘inverted pyramid’ approach with the most important information at the top. Structuring your content, guidance on GOV.UK.
Make sure video content has captions, and that the captions have been checked for clarity and accuracy. Have transcripts for audio content. Think about having a sign language version for people whose reading ability is limited. Sounding out the web: accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people, article by The Paciello Group.

More reading

You may find the following resources useful:

Statistics about hearing loss

11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing.

There are 151,000 BSL users in the UK.

Deaf people are more likely to:

  • have poor mental health - up to 50%, compared to 25% for the general population
  • be unemployed - 65% of working age deaf people are in employment, compared to 79% of the general population