Nationwide Launches British Sign Language Service as it Increases Access to Financial Services for Deaf People

● Website translation service comes as Sign Language Week begins in the UK

Enhances support Nationwide offers Deaf customers in branch and contact centres

● Just 6% of financial services firms1 offer websites in British Sign Language (BSL)

Deaf charities call for greater awareness of BSL as a recognised UK language

BSL is the primary language of 87,000 of UK’s Deaf population

As Sign Language Week launches this week, Nationwide has rolled out a new digital service for Deaf customers by providing its website in British Sign Language (BSL).

Nationwide becomes the first building society to offer the service by partnering with leading BSL technology company, Signly – ensuring Deaf customers can access services in their primary language and improve access to financial services.

BSL content is in the form of pre-recorded signed videos, with the most popular web pages available first. Content will grow over time and users can select any new pages to be translated. Innovative technology continually monitors website content to ensure that translations stay true to the text. For the first use, customers need to opt-in via Nationwide’s accessibility webpage.

Nationwide’s launch comes as national charity British Deaf Association (BDA) is ramping up calls for greater acknowledgement of the needs of Deaf people. They estimate that BSL is the first language of over 87,000 Deaf people in the UK, meaning that written English is inaccessible for many.

With money impacting all aspects of life, providing accessible banking solutions is crucial for ensuring that people maintain financial independence wherever possible. A recent report1 by self-regulatory banking body, the Lending Standards Board (LSB), found that whilst 65 per cent of their registered banking firms offered BSL services in-branch, and 59 per cent offered remote BSL access via video, only six per cent provided on-demand access to website content.

The launch of the service builds on the existing range of accessibility services offered by Nationwide, including SignVideo BSL into contact centres and in-branch BSL interpretation. Nationwide recently announced its participation in the Experian Support Hub scheme, which lets customers record their support needs digitally and share them with multiple companies more easily. As part of this service, there are a range of options for people who are Deaf or have hearing loss, which aim to improve the experience when contacting Nationwide.

Kathryn Townsend, Head of Customer Accessibility at Nationwide said: “British Sign Language is a rich, visual language. The recent BSL Act introduction which legally recognises it as language of England, Scotland and Wales, and the upcoming launch of the BSL GCSE show progress, but there remain barriers. We recognise that for BSL users, accessible communication formats are not always available, so we are proud to launch this new service as part of our commitment to the Deaf community, to improve access to vital financial information. Crucially, we work with Deaf charities and people with lived experiences to help inform what we do.”

Reg Cobb, CEO of charity deafPLUS, said: “At deafPLUS, deaf people, including those who use BSL as their first language is at the heart of what we do and we are proud that 97 per cent of our staff are deaf, including myself. Our mission is to provide information, advice, and guidance so that deaf people can make informed decisions, including with financial matters. In the UK, we’re seen as worldclass in how we provide access to deaf people and yet, we’re still so far behind in terms of equitable access to all facilities, goods and services. Unfortunately, we still hear too many stories of how deaf people are left feeling frustrated, failing to access their own finances.

“We’re pleased to work with Nationwide, as one of the leading financial services providers, to pave the way for better access to information for deaf people and are thrilled to see them launch on-demand access to website content in BSL. It’s vital that corporate organisations, such as Nationwide, are working together towards a world with equal access for deaf people, so they don’t have to rely on support from deaf organisations.”

For enquiries about Nationwide, contact Matthew fox on

Signature collaborate with Signly to Boost Digital Accessibility on Their Website

Since 1982, Signature has supported more than 500,000 people to learn British Sign Language. Signature is proud to be the leading awarding body for deaf communication and language qualifications in the UK. The organisation continually strives to create qualifications that will provide learners with the skills they need to build successful careers and simply raise deaf awareness.

Signature is delighted to team up with Signly, bringing sign language translations to our website. This is a big leap in making our digital space accessible to everyone and amplifies our commitment to deaf awareness. We value our strong ties with the deaf community, making Signly's inclusion an essential step forward.

Tim Scannell, Signly Ambassador signed, “"We're very excited about our collaboration with Signature. This partnership not only enhances accessibility but also represents another step toward a more inclusive digital world. Together, we're turning the vision of sign language access everywhere into a reality." — Tim Scannell, Signly Ambassador

Lindsay Foster, Executive Director at Signature said, “I am thrilled to be working alongside Signly, a company which shares the same values as Signature. The collaboration will ensure digital inclusion and is a step towards full accessibility.

Adding Signly to Heathlands School's Website: A Step Forward for Accessibility in Education

Since 1975, Heathlands School has been a pillar of excellence in education for deaf children and young people. Living by the vision statement, "Become the best you can be," Heathlands continually adapts and evolves to offer the best possible teaching, learning and resources to all its students.

This year, the school has taken another step towards enhanced accessibility by integrating Signly onto its website. Signly offers synchronous sign language translations, making digital content effortlessly accessible to the deaf community who use sign language. Heathlands has a large cohort of deaf parents and full accessibility for them is crucial.

Lesley Reeves Costi, Co Headteacher at Heathlands, said, "Integrating Signly is a natural next step in our journey towards full accessibility. Our vision doesn't just apply to in-classroom learning but extends to how we present ourselves digitally."

Tim Scannell, Signly, shared his excitement, "Heathlands School is an example of what educational institutions should aspire to be. We're thrilled to help them make their digital platforms as inclusive as their physical classrooms."

By adopting Signly, Heathlands School not only ensures that its web content is accessible but also reaffirms its commitment to helping every student become the best they can be, online and offline.

In a world where digital presence is increasingly important, Heathlands School leads by example, showing how accessible technologies can seamlessly integrate into educational settings for the benefit of all. A BSL version is available here.

Contact:  Heathlands School,

Signly Pioneers in Digital Sign Language Translation, Powered by Microsoft Azure

A ground-breaking platform, Signly promises to bridge the communication gap for the deaf community, offering universal access to web content in sign language.

In a significant stride toward disability inclusion, Microsoft Azure fuels a game-changing innovation, Signly – the world’s first fully managed Sign Language as a Service (SLaaS). This revolutionary service enables website owners to seamlessly incorporate sign language translations into their digital content, making it accessible to deaf employees and customers.

Signly stands out with its unique simplicity. It's designed as a low-code solution, making it a breeze for website owners to integrate into any site. The process involves Signly programmatically consuming the written content, monitoring site updates, and presenting the material to expert translators. These professionals transform the content into pre-recorded sign language swiftly and efficiently, providing on-screen sign language translations for users on any webpage.

The Signly team, primarily composed of Deaf translators, has collaboratively built one of the world's largest sign language datasets. This remarkable resource facilitates self-service for Deaf sign language users on websites like Lloyds Bank and Microsoft in the UK and Disability Rights Florida in the US. Importantly, Signly boasts native support for any sign language, assuring accessibility to users globally.

The integration of Signly via Microsoft Azure allows organisations to animate their websites, shattering the language barrier for sign language users. Signly effectively harnesses the powerful tools of Microsoft Azure, including Azure App Service, Azure Cache for Redis, Azure Content Delivery Network, Azure Cosmos DB, Azure Database for PostgreSQL, Azure Front Door, Azure Media Services, and Azure Storage. These tools are chosen for their agility, high performance, and ability to scale globally.

"Azure Marketplace amplifies the reach of solutions like Signly, making them more accessible to customers due to its simplicity, adaptability, and ease of deployment," says Tim Scannell, Signly Ambassador.

Key Benefits:

  • Signly offers an intuitive, straightforward, and accessible platform that allows services to reach a broader audience without the need for additional staff or resources
  • Signly is a platform that is easy to use: intuitive, simple, and accessible
  • Sign language users can utilise the app to retrieve information, communicate and access services, meeting their needs effectively.

Key Features:

  • The world’s first assistive technology of its kind, strives to deliver "more sign language everywhere"
  • Automatically checks for site updates, and produces sign language translations in record time
  • With Signly's low-code process, website owners worldwide can leverage the productive and reliable Azure cloud platform
  • Streamlined deployment and management

Signly is an innovative, accessible, and cost-effective platform that bridges the communication gap between organisations and those who use sign language. Its straightforward integration process makes it an ideal tool for website owners looking to make their digital content more accessible to their deaf employees and customers. The team behind Signly is driven by a vision of a future where all content is accessible in sign language: access for everyone, sign language everywhere.

See sign language users react to Signly in the video below... Click into the video to activate Closed Captions.

Signly Now Available in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace

Microsoft Azure customers worldwide now gain access to Sign Language as a Service (SLaaS) to take advantage of the scalability, reliability and agility of Azure to drive application development and shape business strategies.

Hampshire, United Kingdom — 31 January 2023 — Signly today announced the availability of Sign Language as a Service (SLaaS) in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace, an online store providing applications and services for use on Azure. Signly customers can now take advantage of the productive and trusted Azure cloud platform, with streamlined deployment and management.

Now you can easily make your digital materials accessible for your deaf employees or customers. Access to communication, especially in sign language, is the first step towards providing accessibility for deaf people, and it’s a fundamental part of disability inclusion which requires written materials and websites to be translated into sign language. Website owners will find integrating with Signly easy; it is a low-code process.

What does that look like? Signly programmatically ingests the written word, checks for site updates and passes the content to highly qualified translators who create the pre-recorded sign language in record time. The result? Synchronous, in-vision, sign language translations on any webpage for any D/deaf sign language user.

Tim Scannell, Signly Ambassador, says, “Azure Marketplace helps solutions like Signly reach more customers because it’s so easy to use, adopt and deploy.”

Jake Zborowski, General Manager, Microsoft Azure Platform at Microsoft Corp. said, “We’re pleased to welcome Signly to the Microsoft Azure Marketplace, which gives our partners great exposure to cloud customers around the globe. Azure Marketplace offers world-class quality experiences from global trusted partners with solutions tested to work seamlessly with Azure.”

The Azure Marketplace is an online market for buying and selling cloud solutions certified to run on Azure. The Azure Marketplace helps connect companies seeking innovative, cloud-based solutions with partners who have developed solutions that are ready to use.

About Signly

Assistive technology like Signly can help deliver “more sign language everywhere”. Headquartered in the UK, Signly’s team of predominantly Deaf translators have co-created one of the world’s largest datasets of sign language, enabling D/deaf sign language users to self-serve on websites like Lloyds Bank and Microsoft. Signly can natively support any sign language.

For more information, press only:

More websites add sign language

Over the last few months, more organizations with a progressive view of accessibility who want to go 'beyond compliance' have integrated with Signly:

DeafBlind a lightening quick rollout and the first UK Deaf charity to embrace the need for BSL for its service users on any page of their website.

During last year's research with BSL users, Signly was asked to try and land it's service on the NHS (and BBC). Now in collaboration John Denmark Unit | Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS, it's live on one page of the NHS . Perhaps other NHS trusts will follow suit.

InSign Language is the first Video Relay Service provider to add BSL to their fab new website.

Access Vine - a deaf-led, Disability Inclusion Training Service has an American Sign Language (ASL) integration. Access Vine is also a translation partner.

Microsoft Advertising, also in the USA – the icon sits bottom left.

Microsoft UK remain a key partner and supporter and this launch compliments the UK launch last year, which now spans some 25 pages and counting.

Later this year, three new banks roll out and one rail operator.

If you'd like to add synchronous sign language to your website in less than 30 minutes, please email

First digital billboards to feature British Sign Language unveiled in UK train stations

October 11, 2021 | Microsoft reporter

Video credit: The Drum

The first-ever national digital billboard campaign to feature British Sign Language (BSL) has been launched across the UK by Microsoft to highlight the importance of accessibility in driving innovation.

The campaign has been launched at major railway stations, including Reading, Brighton, Waterloo, Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, Leeds and Edinburgh Waverley.

Each digital billboard will show 10-second films featuring a female BSL translator who is signing the words next to her. The message reads: “The more inclusive you are, the more innovative you can be. Together we can create a better and more accessible world for everyone.”

The campaign has been launched as part of Microsoft’s five-year commitment to inclusivity and accessibility and showcases the role technology can play in improving access to digital content for under-served communities, including the 151,000 individuals who use BSL in the UK. The digital billboard campaign is launched alongside Microsoft’s new accessibility website that contains resources for companies to help them become more inclusive.

It includes information on inclusive hiring practices, digital skills, growing a diverse culture, create accessible solutions, accessibility tools, case studies and tips and tricks.

Created in partnership with Signly, the website also features a BSL translator, who can sign the information with just a click.

A digital billboard featuring British Sign Language is shown on a train station platform
The campaign has been launched at major railway stations

Victoria Oakes, Storytelling and Digital Destinations Lead at Microsoft UK, said: “Innovation comes from diversity of thought and greater diversity can be fostered through building a culture of inclusion and accessibility. Microsoft places great focus on this and this campaign showcases the role technology plays in improving access for underserved populations; sharing our commitment to ensure every person has access to the technology, skills, and opportunity to pursue jobs in a changing economy.”

The BSL interpreters for the site and digital billboards were provided by Signly, which was part of Microsoft’s AI for Good startup cohort. The company joined the Royal Association for Deaf People, JCD, Carat, Posterscope and MRM in creating the train station campaign.

Hector Minto, Director of Accessibility (Evangelism) at Microsoft UK, said: “British Sign Language is the preferred language for tens of thousands of Deaf people across the UK. Every day, people are unable to understand important information because of a lack of accessibility features – online and offline. This is holding back companies, who are missing an opportunity to empower their staff, ensure full participation in activities and unlock innovation that could support future growth.”

According to the British Deaf Association, BSL is the preferred language of more than 87,000 Deaf people in the UK for whom English may be a second or third language.

Sign languages differ from spoken languages in many ways. BSL is a visual-gestural language with a distinctive grammar using handshapes, facial expressions, gestures and body language to convey meaning.

How to empower even more people by challenging accessibility standards

Victoria Oakes

Storytelling & Digital Destinations Lead, Microsoft UK

Our mission is to empower every person and every organisation to achieve more, and we can’t achieve that without accessibility being at the heart of what we do. This doesn’t end with the products and services we offer. It extends to our workplace culture. We weave accessibility into the fabric of our company. From hiring, to creating inclusive marketing, and offering resources to help your organisations to do the same.

We’ve always had accessibility standards ensuring we use closed captions and subtitles but we needed to think beyond that. Like many organisations, our accessibility journey is ongoing. It adapts as we learn and get feedback from our employees, partners, and customers. As Storytelling & Digital Destinations Lead, I continually challenge myself and my team to reimagine our websites, pushing to create great experiences that everyone can access.

Through our AI for Good cohort, we were made aware that for over 70 million Deaf people globally, their first and preferred language is sign language. Sign languages are structured differently from spoken and written language. As a result, some Deaf people have difficulties understanding content in written form. Many rely on friends and family to access the information they need. For example, getting a COVID vaccination is not a simple task when booking and follow-up information is in written text and healthcare staff are wearing facemasks (reducing the ability to lipread).

Despite our focus on accessibility and ensuring all content has subtitles and closed captions, this identified that our content was still inaccessible to a broad group of people.

“BSL is not the same as spoken English or written English, says Tim Scannell, Signly ambassador. “A lot of companies say English is good enough, because they think that Deaf people can understand English like a first language. We’re trying to show that the Deaf grassroots BSL community don’t necessarily understand English well.”

As part of the Deaf BSL community, Tim and Signly have been researching into the impact of the lack of BSL services. “They [BSL users] would always talk about having to bother somebody who is hearing that they knew.” Tim says. For some, this may be the children of Deaf adults, which then changes their relationships and increases stress and anxiety for both. “It also took Deaf people sometimes long time to understand.” For example, if a hearing customer had an issue with their bank, they could go into the branch, or call and get it sorted quickly. “A Deaf customer, however, will go into the branch and the bank would give them written information to read, or they [the bank] wouldn’t know about booking an interpreter or very rarely that would happen. But most don’t know how. They just apologise and say they couldn’t. A Deaf person just wants better communication.”

Learning about Signly

Technology has the power to help everyone. Therefore, it’s clear that we need to make sure that no one gets left behind. That’s why at Microsoft, we’re always looking at ways we can improve accessibility.

We were introduced to Signly when they became part of our AI for Good programme. Instantly, I knew they’d be a key partner to help us further our inclusion goals.

What do Signly do? Their technology translates written text to sign language. It removes this barrier, making content more accessible and is all ran on Azure.

“A lot of firms think about just providing the typical accessibility features and think it’s okay, and it’s always because of the wrong perception that Deaf people are okay with English,” says Tim. “If people only think about the options they’ve set up. That’s not going to work. They need to think sometimes outside of the box.”

And Signly thinks innovatively. Signly allows users to self-serve, view or request sign language translations on webpages. The AI for Good programme helped Signly scale their app. Lloyds Bank become the first UK organisation to offer a British Sign Language translated website.

“Signly covers the fixed information you have on a website so that you make less calls to need an interpreter,” says Tim.

With only around 1000 interpreters in the UK, it’s important we use technology to assist them in their roles while empowering BSL users. Both the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) express how machine learning or AI signing avatars should not be used when the information being delivered is live, complex or of significant importance to the lives of Deaf citizens. Signly helps free up BSL interpreters to focus on those moments, while giving BSL users equal access to the information when they need it.

We decided to launch our new Microsoft Apprenticeship Network as our first Signly-enabled page.

Improving access for everyone with sign language

The Microsoft Apprenticeship Network was built to help connect apprentices and organisations together. To bridge a digital skills gap, the UK needs over three million people in tech careers by 2025. Apprentices are key to this.

At the same time, we need to ensure that our new talent is diverse and inclusive. According to the NHS, people who are Deaf or experience hearing loss are more likely to be unemployed. And in employment, 74 percent surveyed felt that their employment opportunities were limited because of their hearing loss. This means we’re missing out on diverse perspectives, building new talent and driving inclusive innovation. We’re also missing out on the potential economic output. If we don’t address these employment rates by 2031 the UK economy will lose £38.6 billion per year.

There is a clear digital divide that we need to address, and this was the perfect opportunity to trial Signly on our websites.

The low code tech behind the solution

The beauty behind Signly is its simplicity. As a low code solution, it can be easily added to any website. You can translate the pages like we did. So, when you launch you are automatically accessible for everyone. The service also works on demand. Users can request websites to be translated when they need it.

“We use Azure to create a ‘Signing Studio,’” explains Mark Applin, Signly CEO. “It grabs the English straight from the website and fires it straight into the teleprompter for the Deaf translator working from a home studio.”

From there, the video goes back to Azure, and straight onto the web page. And when you update your website, a notification is automatically sent to Signly to update that section. This means all your users are getting the right information at the right time.

“Attaching Signly to the Microsoft Apprenticeship Network webpage was easy. We place a single CSS and JavaScript file on the page. Then we restyle the controls to match our brand,” says Jon Aston, Associate Creative Director at MRM, who created the webpage with Microsoft. “Everything that Signly does is based in Azure. It takes no extra processing from us. This makes it fast and scalable across our website.”

The BSL user experience

When Tim showed the website to other BSL users, he said they were amazed and relieved. As one Signly user said: “Wow. That’s wonderful, that’s really beautiful. I’ve had a problem with all kinds of things, whether it’s doctors or banking and nobody will help me with the English. And I don’t know any of that in English… I have to go to Citizen’s Advice. There’s just barriers everywhere. All the companies just won’t help you.”

“People were getting emotional just to see something in their language.”

– Tim Scannell, Signly ambassador

The future of our accessibility journey with sign language

Working with Signly has shown me the massive opportunity it has in democratising access to everyone. Our values are right there on our website. We aim to help everyone achieve more. And we want to not just talk the talk but to walk the walk. Signly helps us achieve this goal. This is the start of a journey. This pilot is a good first step to see how we can scale the technology across other websites. In the future we can even perhaps scale it to our partners and customers.

“I think with Microsoft being such a massive leader, it could have a huge impact on so many other firms and organisations and what can be done. Every website should have sign language content. It makes deaf people feel accepted,” says Tim.

Another Signly user agrees with Tim. “It [BSL on websites] would be a massive benefit. Less stressed, I’d know how to communicate. I wouldn’t constantly have to ask what does this mean, what does that mean. It would give us equality. I can learn at the same time.”

How Signly could transform other industries

It’s also a great opportunity for the public sector to deliver important information to BSL users. For example, the NHS could use it to provide fixed information around vaccinations, as suggested by a Signly user: “They [The NHS] send me a leaflet about the vaccine, and I said, ‘I just can’t read it’. I’ve not had any information about the vaccine. I keep saying ‘where is the interpreter?’ They’re all wearing masks and I can’t lip read them. If I had a bad reaction, I don’t know what to look out for.”

Media companies can also leverage the technology, to provide more equitable access to news and content. “You miss things on the news…The BBC website should have sign language on the news [page]. And the NHS,” adds a BSL user.

How to evolve your accessibility journey 1. Think in other people's shoes. 2. Challenge existing standards and demonstrate leadership in accessibility - your customers will thank you. 3. Leverage the expertise of companies that can help drive your accessibility journey. 4. Test and learn - continue to adapt.

Your accessibility journey will be constantly evolving as you learn. It’s important to remember that implementing inclusive designs in your services and products is not a ‘one and done’ job. It’s a continuous process that you must update and approach in new ways. And working with companies like Signly, you can easily scale out these innovations. This pilot is a stepping stone for us at Microsoft. It’s one we are proud of and hope to expand on.

Find out more

Learn more about Signly

Our accessibility commitment

Help Signly and take part in their social impact research

Resources to empower your development teams

Accessibility fundamentals

Learn the basics of web accessibility

About the author

Victoria Oakes
Victoria Oakes

Great stories demand heroes, emotions, and insight. As Storytelling & Digital Destinations Lead at Microsoft UK, Victoria Oakes places these principles at the heart of Microsoft UK’s content output. In this role, she drives to unify messaging and content across Microsoft using insights at the heart. Through her passion for engaging copy, visual storytelling, and data-driven insights, she truly cares about content being useful, interesting and easy to digest. As a philanthropy advocate, Victoria strongly believes in using technology for social impact, strengthening empowerment and inclusion for all and environmental sustainability.