Choices….

Choices“That was quick!” That’s what a deaf person said to me recently after an appointment. They meant no malice, but they were referring to the appointment being quick, approx 20 minutes. Looking back at my blog last week (https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/15/cutting-costs-who-are-we-kidding/), some people might think that an interpreter being present at a 20 minute appointment is pointless. In fact, I did feel that when I went into the assignment, the hearing person was wondering why I was there when there was not much speech to be interpreted. However, isn’t it about ‘having a fair crack of the whip?’ (As my father likes to say).That each person in society has the same choices as everyone else? I always remember at an interview once where the term ‘reasonable adjustment’ was described as – not lowering the standard but making adjustments so that we all have the same opportunity to achieve the desired standard, whether that be in the workplace, education, sport, or anywhere else.

I always enjoy receiving comments about my blogs and one in particular stuck out for me from my last post on cutting costs. It said that despite the cuts in education, health care or whatever service it may be, people who are deaf can still achieve. Just to be clear, I take that as a given. But, most importantly from this week’s blog, I want to make the point that these inequalities are still not fair or acceptable. In a society which has the recent Equality Act 2010 focussing on equality and diversity (positive!) there is still inequality throughout our society.

I believe it is imperative that we all have informed choice. Whether that would be an informed choice to a qualified or trainee interpreter, an informed choice as to which interpreter or note taker, deafblind interpreters, lipspeakers, etc. the person chooses, or informed choice about the information they are receiving.  A basic human right, agreed? Going back to my opening statement about ‘That was quick!’ I believe it was the deaf person’s right to have that information about what was going on in the room, the same as every other hearing person present, regardless of the time it took. With information people then have the knowledge to make choices about their situation and future. It is also their right to have that information interpreted clearly and accurately, thus the importance of having a registered (fully qualified) or regulated (trainee) interpreter so that bits of information aren’t left out or modified to fit the person’s ability to sign the message.

Having the choice of not wanting an interpreter present, I think, is also just as important. Perhaps the deaf person wants to have a family relation with them instead of an interpreter in a hospital appointment. Equally, perhaps they are happy to lip-read and don’t feel the need to book an interpreter. Each to their own! The important thing is a person’s right to have choices. It still baffles me why the powers that be question the cost of an interpreter. I feel the payment of interpreters needs to be factored into organisations’ budgets. Just like other professionals, tasks and equipment are budgeted for. For example, in the NHS shouldn’t an interpreter (for those deaf people that want one) be part of their overall health service from the taxes they pay? Is the health service I receive the same for a deaf person who requires an interpreter to communicate with the doctor but hasn’t been provided with one? Whilst I understand that for small businesses this could be more difficult compared to larger, corporate, companies, this is where the government needs to provide a budget for this. Isn’t this what Access to Work was/is about?  This could be similar to the requirements for most new buildings to contain a lift; all new public buildings and retail shops would require a lift as it would be unreasonable not to install one. Whilst a person in a wheelchair may never use these buildings, they have a choice to use them. Similarly, as a woman, I have a choice to have a baby without the worry that my job will be replaced by someone else.

We are all entitled to a level playing field in life. Whether that is me having a right as a woman to have my pay equal to the male equivalent in the same role at work; or a deaf person’s choice to have an interpreter – whatever the length of time; Or, my right to have the same standard of medical care regardless of how much I earn or I can afford to pay. What people choose to do after that is up to them. Hopefully, registered (fully qualified) and regulated (trainee) interpreters can contribute towards this level playing field.

Image from: © Copyright Andy Waddington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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Cutting costs – who are we kidding….

money down drainIn the past week or so many articles have appeared on different social media all carrying the same message – the decision by those in charge to cut costs to save money and yet having a long term, negative, impact on society and therefore spending the money they have ‘saved’ or spend more to try and reverse the effects.

The first article was regarding education failing deaf children. The statistics show that only 36.3% of deaf children in England left secondary school having hit the national GCSE benchmarks, compared to 65.3% of their hearing classmates (http://slfirst.co.uk/community/education/education-system-suppresses-deaf-achievement/). Both deaf and hearing babies are born with the same brains and so the question is why are deaf children so far behind their hearing peers? I believe this is because of the lack of support for deaf children in schools. Supposedly there is not enough money to employ trained, qualified interpreters for all deaf children and so “a huge percentage of the people put into our schools to support deaf children do not have signing skills above casual conversational level.” (http://slfirst.co.uk/community/education/education-system-suppresses-deaf-achievement/) So it is deemed acceptable that to save money some deaf children will have to make do with what support they are given which negatively impacts their ability to compete in the workplace, increasing the likelihood of their reliance on state benefits and therefore those costs that were saved back in school have been long eroded.

Only yesterday I saw an article with the statistics that deaf people have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (among other health problems) (http://www.diabetes.co.uk/news/2015/feb/deaf-people-at-higher-risk-of-type-2-diabetes-99113596.html?utm_content=buffera642a&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer). The suggestion being that this is due to serious communication barriers between doctors and their patients who are deaf. Why? Because deaf people are not being provided with interpreters or adequate information in BSL. The deaf health charity called ‘SignHealth’ have suggested that when the majority of deaf people see a doctor although 8 out of 10 deaf patients want to use sign language only 3 in 10 are given the chance (i.e. provided with an interpreter) (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/health-information/sick-of-it-report/sick-of-it-in-english/). Furthermore, evidence suggests that due to deaf people having poor access to healthcare they are about twice as likely to have mental health problems compared to the rest of the population (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/health-information/sick-of-it-report/sick-of-it-in-english/). In addition to this, early access to effective communication with family members and peers is desirable for deaf children for factors affecting their mental health (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)61143-4/abstract?cc=y). The cuts that were, and are still, being made for deaf people in education and health by not having the appropriate communication support seem to have unravelled because now a higher proportion of deaf people have mental health problems and other health related problems compared to the rest of the population, which could have been preventable if the appropriate communication support was put in place. So the costs that were saved in one place have reappeared higher in another, i.e. the NHS.

So, for those deaf people who are in employment – which, the odds are against them being there (http://slfirst.co.uk/community/education/education-system-suppresses-deaf-achievement/) – the support in the form of Access to Work (A2W) is being cut. The Limping Chicken article – http://limpingchicken.com/2015/02/13/if-the-need-is-there-why-not-support-former-adviser-talks-about-the-changes-to-access-to-work/ – suggests that “Less support may be offered due to cost commitments.” The effect changes in A2W is having on deaf people will be explored in future blogs but if interpreter support is not available to support the employee (and as the Limping Chicken article says, most support to deaf customers was through interpreters) then ultimately they lose their jobs or cannot get or sustain employment. This could cause multiple expenses, e.g. the deaf person possibly becoming depressed and seeking medical attention – a cost to the NHS, the deaf person no longer pays tax or national insurance – less contribution to the British economy, the deaf person may rely on social welfare – a cost to the tax payer. Again, those initial cost cutting ideas to A2W don’t seem to have any long term benefit for deaf people nor to society as a whole.

As Jackie Ashley states in this Guardian article, (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/09/hearing-aids-health-policy-austerity-nhs) and with which I agree “austerity economics is that all the focus goes on immediate, instant, short-termist ‘savings’ rather than on keeping our nerve and asking what is right and prudent for the long term.” Whilst I understand that there may be a need for austerity measures as an economic strategy that any government may choose to impose, it is falling disproportionately on those with a specialist need, like deaf and disabled people. What’s more, measures such as poor provision to deaf children in mainstream schools was something in place before austerity even came about. Will the results be worse from the next batch of research undertaken? Whoever is voted into government in May 2015 I hope they will shift their focus from immediate, short-term costs to the real, long term costs.

Image from: TaxRebate.org.uk

New beginnings, challenges and hopes for the future….

NewSo, this week was my final week working at Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education (the Academy). That means I am no longer a PAYE employee and the safety net of a regular wage has gone. I enjoyed working at the Academy as an Equal Access Coordinator to help ensure access to communication for the deaf staff was on par with those who are hearing. Principally, I made sure all communication sent to staff, i.e. all staff emails, newsletters, etc. had a BSL translation (in video form) to accompany the English text.  This helped to make sure deaf people were not the last to know about news and information happening in and around the Academy. Previously, deaf staff would receive emails with no BSL translation which meant that for some, they would struggle to understand the message perhaps because there was too much jargon or ‘flowery’ language or quite simply because English is, for most deaf people, their second language. A dual communication policy has since been released stating that no all staff email can be sent without a BSL translation attached and they must be sent at the same time (i.e. not the English email sent and then BSL translation sent 1 week later). This is a real innovative step for an organisation – and whilst you may be thinking this seems a simple thing to do – you would be surprised at just how many workplaces don’t do this, particularly those who employ deaf staff. I hope that the Academy continues its practice and other organisations copy shortly.

The Academy job was a good one and I worked with some great people, but I was finding it increasingly difficult juggling working at the Academy for 2 days and freelancing as an interpreter for the rest of the week. Interpreting is my real passion. I do feel working at the Academy in this capacity has helped me as an interpreter because it has given me an insight into some of the challenges people who are deaf can face when at work. It has also helped me to see certain situations from both perspectives, not only in terms of deaf staff, but also seeing hearing staff wanting to change attitudes and improve access but finding that it isn’t something that can happen overnight. Of course, in any organisation, change is not easy and there will be some reluctance shown by staff. Hence, the importance of deaf awareness for new and existing staff. As mentioned in my previous post ‘Deaf awareness, for what it’s worth…’ hearing people are not naturally deaf aware. I believe holding both perspectives of hearing and deaf people in mind when interpreting will help me appreciate that not everyone knows how to work with a BSL interpreter or are deaf aware just because they have deaf staff working with them.

A new beginning? Yes indeed it is. Challenges ahead? I expect so. But not only for me as a freelance interpreter, but also for the BSL interpreting profession as a whole. Things have still not settled with the recent cuts and changes to the Access to Work scheme (‘A2W’: a service provided by the government to support anyone whose health or disability affects the way they do their job) and discussions are on going. In the meantime, this is causing untold stress in the workplace for deaf employees who are unsure if their support will continue hindering their ability to do their job; the introduction of the National Framework Agreement (NFA) where the government has asked companies to bid for a new national contract to provide language and translation services including BSL interpreters – a worry that contractors will reduce or ignore fair fees in order to maximise profits, having a profound effect on quality and standards ;and, whether you believe the figures or not, The National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI)  reports 48% of the profession are thinking or already actively seeking to leave the profession because of such changes http://www.uniteforoursociety.org/blog/entry/british-sign-language-interpreting-a-profession-in-decline/ . Other challenges are those still employing people who have not received training as a registered interpreter to support and work with deaf people – and deaf people feeling unable to complain that a signer has been employed with barely conversational BSL (level 1 and 2) perhaps because they don’t want to make a fuss in case their employer deems them to be complaining and a nuisance. These are just a few challenges and there are many more I have not mentioned – to be explored in future blogs. But, is there hope and opportunities for the future? Of course! I am hopeful I can be an ‘agent for change’ to educate people – both in working as an interpreter and, if only in a small way, by writing my blogs http://www.streetleverage.com/2013/04/ethical-choices-educational-sign-language-interpreters-as-change-agents/ . As the message gets out into the public domain, then perhaps deaf awareness increases and A2W will achieve an outcome shortly which will be for the interests of those depending on it; the NFA will safeguard deaf customers who are entitled to appropriately qualified registered BSL interpreters who will be paid competitive fees.

How will it all pan out? Watch this space….