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It is with great pride we share the news that our Chief Executive, James Watson-O’Neill, has been appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year Honours.

This high-level award recognises James’ contribution for services to Deaf people. James joined the charity sector in 2001, having worked in a variety of roles at Scope and NSPCC. James is also a trustee of Refuge and the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG).

Since joining SignHealth in 2016, James has worked tirelessly with others to achieve an incredible amount in a short space of time and improve Deaf people’s health and wellbeing. Despite facing some challenging times, particularly during the pandemic, he has managed to bring the organisation together and achieve financial stability so SignHealth delivers on its purpose of removing the barriers Deaf people face to health equality.

Throughout the years, James’ passionate and purposeful leadership, along with the hard work of the entire team, have led us to some extraordinary achievements. Recent examples are SignHealth’s commitment to making all the government briefings and information related to COVID-19 available in BSL, as well as the creation of BSL Health Access, which ensured remote health consultations were accessible to Deaf people during the peak of the pandemic. James also works hard to raise awareness of the issues the Deaf community faces, particularly in mental health and domestic abuse. He is a passionate advocate of diversity and inclusion and is committed to ensuring these values are reflected throughout SignHealth.

“This is an award for everyone at SignHealth, not just me and perhaps least of all me, so it’s troubling that the system works in such a way that it’s me that ends up being recognised…That said I am very grateful – everyone always says this but it’s really true – that our extraordinary efforts have made an impact.”

– James Watson-O’Neill

Whilst a lot has been achieved, there is still a long way to go before Deaf people have true health equity, so James also makes sure that SignHealth is always looking ahead and engaging in conversations that will bring about real, social change.

“On top of being a passionate and values-driven leader, James’ drive for social change serves as a true inspiration to all of us. This is a well-deserved recognition that does more than make us proud – it goes to show that we, as a charity, are on the right track to help build a world where there are no barriers to good health and wellbeing for Deaf people. What an exciting time to be part of SignHealth. Our charity is definitely one to watch! ”, said trustee Amanprit Arnold.


This is the second OBE awarded to someone from SignHealth, the first received by Jackie Driver, Chair of our Board of Trustees last year. Everyone at SignHealth is really pleased – it’s a great start to 2022.

“I am delighted to learn that James has been awarded an OBE for his work in this area. Together with developing a new board that reflects the make up of the communities we serve, James developed whole scale change at SignHealth to develop senior Deaf leadership and delivered to the ambitious strategy we set to remove barriers for Deaf people in accessing  health services. Responding swiftly to close the significant NHS and public health  gaps in BSL accessible services during Covid is an example of life saving impact James has led at SignHealth.  The award is very well deserved indeed. “

– Jackie Driver