Meet the Team – Tim Scannell

This month we introduce you to our Social Media Ambassador, Tim Scannell.

Watch (or read) and learn all about Tim’s journey and why he joined the Signly team.

I was born profoundly deaf due to my Mother contracting German Measles whilst pregnant. Doctors advised my mother to focus on getting me to hear and speak, and not to learn sign language.

I went to a primary school that focused on teaching me to speak; as a result, my education suffered. Due to my deafness I was sent away to boarding school (the taxi drive there was 3 hours). Lack of specialist schools meant I had to travel far. At that time technology was limited, there was no way to contact my family other than through a telephone land line. Messages from my family had to be passed on to me via a member of staff.

At the age of 14 I had saved up enough pocket money to pay for a flight to California. I attended a deaf camp in Wrightwood and Pinecrest Pines. I loved it so much I returned every year for 6 years and was privileged enough to end up working there in a leadership/management role.
I discovered a passion for travel and over the years went on to visit many countries including Jordan where I stayed on for over a year. In Jordan I volunteered to teach deaf children at a local school. One of my most memorable experiences was when I was almost kidnapped by a local taxi driver! Fortunately, I ended up at the British Embassy where I lived to ‘tell the tale’!

All throughout my education I was not taught sign language, in fact you were punished if school staff caught you using it. At one point I was given 3 disciplinaries followed by a suspension for using BSL to talk to my deaf peers! At the age of 16 I attended Derby College for Deaf People. Lots of the deaf students there knew BSL and mocked me for my poor attempts at using a language I couldn’t use adequately. Eventually, however, I learnt BSL and even achieved qualifications in the subject.

Having acquired a new language, opportunities arose for me both academically and socially. I was able to enjoy roles such as becoming a committee member for a local Sports and Deaf Centre, and I was involved in setting up the first ever Deaf United in Derbyshire F.A. football team.
Around 1995 I remember possessing my first useful bit of communication technology – a pager. When people wanted to contact me, they could leave a message and the pager would vibrate to let me know.

As a deaf child and young adult, any medical appointments were attended along with a family member for communication purposes. Medical staff always directed conversations at my family member. I would continually ask ‘what are you talking about?’, but still struggled to understand their response as lipreading was difficult; I lost most of the meaning and content of the conversation. These situations always left me feeling frustrated.
It is only this last year that the NHS introduced the NHS Information Accessible Standard. Now when I have a medical appointment I can access a BSL interpreter which is fantastic. However, there is still ongoing tension over the prices interpreters charge, and concerns that interpreters will still charge 3 hours’ work for a 10-minute appointment.

When it was time to hit the road, a family member had to teach me to drive. The theory part was tough as reading the manual was incredibly tough; it was over 300 pages and in English, my second language, so took me a lot longer to study.
Travelling at airports and railways always posed a problem, it still does today. I can’t access announcements and have to fix my eyes on the screens for live updates on departure and arrival information. Safety instructions aboard aeroplanes are paramount and I never had a clue what was going on which was disconcerting to say the least.

Once, I informed British Airlines of my disability in advance, hoping to resolve any communication problems with the safety demonstrations. They responded by handing me a portable DVD player to watch a video on arrival at the airport, but it didn’t even have subtitles!
Learning BSL at college and making new friends gave me back a sense of independence that I had lost over the years of having to rely on others.
When I attended University to study Computer Science (Multimedia Systems Design), I was exposed to the lack of adequate support for deaf students. Sometimes I had to attend lectures with no interpreter or note taker. Often lecturers would not give me written material in advance, so I could go through the English with support. I felt I had to work harder than most students to first understanding the English before I could even attempt at learning the subject matter. Simple issues such as subtitles for video content was not provided which meant I missed out on a lot of information.

As a married family man communication still poses a problem in some areas. The school run can be isolating as I watch all the parents chatting in the playground. No-one approaches me as they are too nervous or just simply do not know how to communicate with me. I find extended family gatherings incredibly difficult. People are talking very quickly to one another around the dinner table and it’s nearly impossible to lipread, especially when there are more than one conversation happening at the same time! Most family and friends members cannot sign so find it difficult to talk to me, and even when they do, I don’t understand what they are saying, and I find myself nodding in agreement which makes me feel embarrassed.

I am always missing bits of information due to communication issues. Apparently, there have been many twin births in my family’s history, but I only found out when my wife fell pregnant with twins! Why did no one tell me?

On a more serious note, when my father died suddenly I was surrounded by confusion; details of how it happened were not explained to me, a) because people viewed my deafness as making me ‘vulnerable’ and unable to cope with the truth (I was an adult when it happened), and b) when conversations regarding his death were being spoken of around me, I couldn’t access that information.

All the household bills are in my wife’s name solely due to companies not offering a way for me to communicate with them other than over the telephone. I once tried to cancel a mobile phone contract over the phone, but they refused as they ‘didn’t understand my voice’. I had to write a letter instead; this process took over 3 weeks before I was able to cancel my contract!

My experience in the work place is not much better. I once contacted a company that I wanted to work for about possible employment. They were very enthusiastic about me visiting the company to see what role they could potential offer me that would suit my qualifications and experience. After much conversation through email I informed them that I would need an interpreter and that I was profoundly deaf. The tone of conversation changed, and eventually they stopped responding to my emails.

I tend to look for jobs where my deafness is not an issue or is possibly an advantage, although this can still be an issue due to my limited English skills. This has forced me into a specific line of work and limited my job opportunities vastly.

I have a passion for technology and have been fortunate enough to work in this industry for many years. I spend a lot of time researching the latest gadgets and gismos, taking a special interest in technology that can improve deaf people’s lives by aiding communication. The use of mobile phones to text and send video messages has been invaluable to me; my wife and I often Facetime and converse in BSL freely.
Video Relay Services set up in 2000 in the UK and has helped me hugely in being able to contact people, especially in my current role as a Freelance Consultant; I can converse with clients using a professional and reliable service.

As mentioned before English is a second language to me and to many other BSL users. It poses a huge barrier in terms of accessing written information. Signly is an exciting App that can solve that problem. The App’s ability to change written language into Sign language is welcomed by the deaf community and has the potential to resolve many communication barriers if companies get onboard and offer it as a service.

Signly selected as one of ten finalists in 2017 European Social Innovation Competition ‘Equality Rebooted’

Ten European social innovators to compete for three €50,000 prizes awarded by the European Commission

Signly has been selected from a shortlist of 30 semi-finalists out of almost 800 entries in the 2017 edition of the European Social Innovation Competition, Equality Rebooted. This year’s Finalists have ideas to ‘reboot’ equality and ensure everyone in Europe benefits from the opportunities created by technological change. Their solutions present fresh, energetic approaches to digital inclusion, collaborative economy, connectivity and skills development. See the full 2017 Competition announcement and list of all 30 semi-finalists, including the 10 finalists here: bit.ly/2017diogochallenge

The average deaf school leaver has a reading age equivalent to that of a 9-year-old hearing child. Because literacy can be low amongst the d/Deaf masses of essential written content is not independently accessible for this group.

For example, an investigation by the (Money Advice Service (MAS) has found young blind or deaf people in the UK receive “barely any” specialised financial education.

An estimate for the European Union is 750,000 Deaf sign language users. This does not include people learning a sign language as a second language or children of Deaf parents or other family members.

Signly is an app which displays pre-recorded sign language videos on a user’s mobile, enabling better access to written content for d/Deaf sign language users at a time and place that is suitable for them. Signly enabling books or brochures on the topic of money management alongside the written word could drive financial and digital literacy and help improve reading skills.

Mark Applin, Co-founder at Signly said:

“This is an incredible opportunity to make a difference to the lives of young d/Deaf people. Our mentor helped give us real clarity and focus – we’d always had a keen interest in education and zooming in on the topic of money management was a real epiphany and getting the detail down in a business plan has given us a clear strategy for the next 12 months.

Now we’re finalists, we hope awareness of the app will grow and we can secure a large technical partner. The potential prize would be our first ever round of funding and help us deliver our goal of making essential information accessible to the Deaf community.”

Signly attended a mentoring academy in Madrid in July where they worked with experts in social innovation to refine their idea, before pitching to a jury of successful social innovators with expertise in digital innovation and skills development. Over the summer, they worked with an individual coach to develop their business plan. The jury have now critically evaluated each business plan and selected the 10 strongest entries.

Anna Sienicka, Vice President Europe Techsoup and member of the 2017 jury commented:

“As a jury, we were excited by the diversity and scope of all the shortlisted projects this year. They prove that social innovation will help to make our world more equal and fit for the future. All 10 finalists are fantastic examples of the types of tools, services and models that enable people, regardless of their specific context and environment, to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution. I hope these projects will inspire others to put their own ideas into action, and also catalyse new ways of addressing inequality for governments and communities throughout Europe alike.”

Organised since 2012 in memory of Portuguese politician and social innovator Diogo Vasconcelos, the European Social Innovation Competition will help the most innovative ideas to become real and sustainable projects.

Three winners will be selected from the 10 Finalists and will each be awarded with a prize of €50,000 at the Awards Ceremony on 26 October 2017 in Brussels.

For full details please visit: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/social-innovation-competition

Follow the competition on Twitter: @EUSocialInnov #diogochallenge


Notes to editors

About the European Social Innovation Competition

The European Social Innovation Competition, launched in memory of Diogo Vasconcelos, is a challenge prize run by the European Commission across all European countries, now in its fifth year. The theme of the 2017 competition is Equality Rebooted and seeks to find innovations in tools, services, and models that allow everyone to seize the opportunities offered by technological change.

The competition is organised by the European Commission, supported by Nesta, Kennisland, Shipyard, Impact Hub and Matter&Co.

For information about previous competitions and winning projects see:

2016:  http://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=8973&lang=en

2015: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=8567&lang=en&title=These-are-the-winners-of-the-2015-European-Social-Innovation-Competition

2014: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=7531&lang=en&title=Three-projects-meet-the-European-Job-Challenge-and-receive-the-Social-Innovation-Prize

2013: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=6699&lang=en&title=Best-social-innovation-ideas.-New-ways-to-create-new-jobs-and-businesses

About Signly

We believe the Signly app is unique – a UK and world first.

Signly is an award-winning app which displays pre-recorded sign language videos on a user’s mobile, enabling better access to written content for d/Deaf sign language users.

For more information on Signly please visit signly.co or contact mark@signly.co

For press enquiries please contact:
Rachel Pidgeon rachel@matterandco.com +44 (0)203 861 3341

Signly Innovation at Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre wins at 2017 Jodi Awards Ceremony

Revolutionary new app unlocks cultural venues for d/Deaf people

Signly, an app created for d/Deaf British Sign Language users in collaboration with the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, has won the prestigious Jodi Award 2017. Winners were chosen from a shortlist of museums, galleries, archives, libraries and heritage sites that make best use of technology to widen access for disabled people and those with sensory impairment. The presentations were made at a special ceremony held at the Attenborough Arts Centre of Leicester University on Thursday 27 June 2017. Judges were impressed by the strong testimonials and feedback from users of the Signly App and its value as an innovative tool in enhancing the experience for d/Deaf visitors to the Museum.

Steve Gardam, Director of the Roald Dahl Museum, was delighted to hear of the recognition Signly has received from the Jodi Mattes Trust.

“The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is proud to have been the first public venue to use Signly, and an investor in developing the app. Roald Dahl loved inventiveness and Signly is a great way for a small museum like ours, in a complex set of old buildings, to inventively increase accessibility using the technology visitors bring in their own pockets.”

Steve Gardam, Director, The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

Signly is an app which displays pre-recorded sign language videos on a user’s mobile, enabling better access to visual content for d/Deaf sign language users. The app is downloaded from the App Store or Google Play and when opened can be pointed at labels throughout the Museum to display British Sign Language videos. This enables visitors to access information about the exhibits without having to make known ‘a special need’ or to wait for interpreted tours.

Co-founder of Signly, Mark Applin explains how the app became a reality:

“The team at the Roald Dahl Museum showed a real pioneer spirit adopting Signly. Their forward–thinking approach and the passion of our co-founders at Deafax combined to make Signly a reality, not a concept. They rightly received plaudits from the d/Deaf community and kick-started Signly so we could reach other sectors. We’re so grateful.”

Being earmarked for this prestigious award means Signly can now reach deeper into the lives of the d/Deaf community where its benefits are starting to be felt in other sectors such as finance, safety, health and the Arts.


Notes for editors

Images: Jpg images available online
Or from Signly Press Officer hello@signly.co


Signly is an app which displays pre-recorded sign language videos on a user’s mobile, enabling better access to visual content for d/Deaf sign language users. Signly is ideal for museums, galleries, theatres, leisure centres, libraries, information centres, bus and rail stations, airports… any organisation looking to meet its obligations under the Equality Act 2010. Quickly translating key messages into filmed sign language for the app, content is triggered at key locations on the visitor route simply by holding up a smart device against a Signly ‘marker’ or object.

For further information or to arrange a visit to the Roald Dahl Museum to see Signly in action, please contact Mark Applin mark@signly.co 07870 591332.


The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is aimed at 6 to12 year olds and their families and is situated in the village of Great Missenden, where Roald Dahl lived and wrote for 36 years. It has three fun and fact-packed interactive galleries. Visitors can see the original interior of his Writing Hut, the ramshackle but magical place where he crafted all his children’s stories.

For further information about the Museum, please contact Isabelle Reynolds isabelle@roalddahlmuseum.org 01494 892192


Established in 1985, Deafax develops solutions and opportunities for deaf people, to empower them and enhance their lives. Deafax is the number one organisation for specialist visual and interactive deaf-friendly resources.
Our training and resources cover a wide range of different topics in the fields of health, employment, education and life skills and our visual, interactive, specialist approach is consistent throughout.
In visitor attractions and other locations, we know that written English is not always the best way to share information with deaf people, as many of them prefer sign language. Signly is therefore a major step forward in providing equal access for more people.

For more information about Deafax’ work, please email helen@deafax.org