Ali Borthwick talks about how her life has been transformed by communicating with Sign Live
Ali Borthwick looks unaffected by thalidomide at first glance – but that’s not the case at all.
Profoundly deaf since birth, she has still lived life to the full, with a partner (who is also deaf), four hearing children, two cheeky Boston Terriers, and a happy life in Leeds.
She loves travelling, and as her partner loves driving, she can sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery on their trips together.
Like many Thalidomiders, Ali is experiencing a lot of pain in her limbs and joints as she gets older, and has had to give up work – but she enjoys being at home and making adaptations and improvements to her house and garden.
Ali tells us how Sign Live works and you can read her story below
Over the last year or so, Ali’s life has been transformed by the use of a great new way of communicating for deaf people – Sign Live.
Put simply, it’s a way to communicate by telephone.
Ali can contact a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter who will then communicate with the hearing person she needs to talk to. Whilst the hearing person and the Sign Live interpreter talk, the interpreter signs to Ali, who can see them on her computer screen, tablet or even her mobile, and respond through BSL which the interpreter then ‘translates’ for the hearing person.
Sign Live means that Ali can now make bookings, talk to her doctors’ surgery or simply have a chat with a hearing friend as easily as anyone else – no wonder she is raving about it!
Ali found it difficult growing up as a deaf person in a hearing world
“Looking back,” she explains, “Growing up was extremely difficult as a deaf person. When I was at home with Mum, before I started school, we used to ‘home sign’ and it was fine; but when I went to school you got a smack on the hand if you signed and we had to learn to talk out loud and to lip read. Lip reading is extremely tiring – and it can be really easy to misinterpret – for example in maths, it’s easy to misinterpret fourteen as forty. I kept getting things wrong so I’d ask the teacher to repeat things – which resulted in me getting told off, or caned. I get goose bumps just talking about it.
My partner is younger than me and his school life was extremely different with a full time BSL interpreter. He got the GCSEs and I didn’t.”
Ali’s mum sadly died of a brain tumour when Ali was just 18. She didn’t get on with her stepmother and had to get to grips with the hearing world to move on in her life.
Communication was a barrier until Sign Live was launched
“I felt isolated in the hearing world. Communication was the biggest barrier and it has always been a struggle. With GDPR in place a lot of organisations won’t let a third party talk to them for you – I had to manage by writing notes to people; and when BSL is your first language things can easily get lost in translation. We used to use Type Talk for telephone calls and it was ‘the devil’. I’d type, they’d type and so on....and it just didn’t work.”
“Sign live was introduced about five years ago and I joined it this year, with the help of the Trust. It has changed my life.
My partner had been using it at work, through the Access to Work scheme, to talk to customers (he’s a delivery driver for Sainsbury’s) and he showed me how it worked by calling his boss. It was brilliant and I wanted it too.”
The Thalidomide Trust introduced Sign Live as part of their services
The Trust’s commitment to breaking down communications barriers meant that Ali was able to go in and talk to them about Sign Live through an interpreter and discuss the options.
“When they announced that they were introducing it as part of the wellbeing service I jumped for joy” she laughs.
Now, Ali pays for her own Sign Live account through her Direct Payments and loves the freedom it gives her; “Sign Live works 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she explains “so if I need to call someone in the middle of the night, I can.
I don’t know how I managed without it, and for my hearing friends who are Thalidomiders, and have short arms, it completely gets around the fact that they find it difficult to sign. We can just relax in our own homes and have a chat.
I wish I’d had Sign Live years ago. It’s not cheap (Sign Live charges £108 an hour, but will only charge for the minutes you use) which might put some people off; but when you think that in the past you’d have to book an interpreter at a minimum charge of three hours – for a ten minute doctor’s appointment – and pay their petrol expenses, it balances out quite well – and you know you’re getting a fully-qualified interpreter.
Now, I just take my tablet to the doctors with me; get a Sign Live interpreter up on my screen; and everyone can understand each other.”
Sign Live has given Ali confidence
Ali gets pretty emotional about Sign Live, she feels that it looks after her in her everyday life – and has increased her confidence no end.
“It’s like I’m its baby,” she comments “it looks after me and is always there for me. But I feel like it’s my baby too! I can put it in my pocket and keep it close to me. When I stay in a British hotel, where they’re reluctant to use BSL, I can just get my tablet out, and the Sign Live interpreter will act as the middleman, from booking a room to asking what time breakfast is.”
Ali has no qualms about recommending Sign Live to other deaf beneficiaries
“Life for deaf people in the hearing world is difficult enough, without having problems communicating” she exclaims, “the Trust can help you set it up and you can rely on interpreters that understand all sides of the conversation. It will change your life.”