Here's an unusual use for videoconferencing - London-based agency Significan't (that's "sign if I can't") has set up a sign-language translation service using Cisco IP video kit.

It seems lip-reading isn't always reliable, and many hearing people find it hard to understand when deaf people speak. You could type instead, using IM or a service such as Typetalk, but for a real conversation it's much slower than either speech or signing. You can hire freelance sign-language translators by the hour, but they're expensive and are booked up weeks in advance.

So the idea is that you have your meeting face to face, next to a videoconferencing station. The translator appears on the screen, watches the deaf person and listens to the hearing person, and then translates as appropriate. It's cheaper because you pay by the minute, and because the translators don't have to travel, they're available at shorter notice.

The service is already proving popular with the likes of local councils and health authorities, and the next step is to open it up to businesses and other organisations that have deaf customers.

If you think it's just a clever idea that doesn't apply to you, consider this: employers are increasingly subject to legislation that requires them to make reasonable adaptations for the disabled. As services like this appear, the border between "reasonable" and "unreasonable" is going to shift.

And if the stick doesn't work, here's the carrot - there's a lot of talent out there, and not all of it has good hearing. If you rule out the disabled, it's your loss as well as theirs.

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