Theatre Interpreting in Devon and Cornwall with Dreadnought South West

 

 

Interpreting Dreadnought’s production of ‘The Cause’, touring throughout the South West, has sadly now come to an end. It is as they say ‘all good things come to an end’ – and it was, a very good thing! Both in terms (of course) that access to theatre for people who use BSL as their first language, but equally for me as an opportunity to interpret in theatre again. It was extraordinary for me this time that I also had the privilege of interpreting the play more than once because I travelled with the Dreadnought crew to four of their touring locations in Devon and Cornwall. Interpreting a play more than once is a dream for many theatre interpreters as they will have the opportunity to evaluate their work and improve upon anything ready for the next show. 

I used my time wisely and invited my mentor to the first performance in South Devon, so I had two sets of eyes (mine and hers) to evaluate my interpretation. Whilst it is very kind for people to say that I looked ‘very good’, these aren’t always reliable sources of feedback due to the nature of their comments – usually they are trying to be kind, or they might not understand BSL to make any meaningful comments (although, always nice to be told that I am doing a good job!) Another set of eyes (my mentor) meant that I not only avoid the risk of ‘head in the clouds’ attitude that all is OK and nothing needs to be changed, but more so to stop me from being too critical on myself and having more of a constructive view to work from. 

I was also very fortunate that the attitude from Dreadnought was very flexible and open minded when it came to including a BSL interpreter into their performances. They made it very clear from the start that they did not want it to be just a token gesture, but also something for them to learn from so that they will have more of an understanding of how to make their performances accessible in the future. Their flexibility included having numerous meetings with the director and writer of the play to discuss my positioning on stage and the resources I needed from them in order to start prepping the play effectively. Among many other things, this included having early access to the script; a filmed performance for me to have available at home; complementary tickets to as many performances to help me understand the concept of the play and characterisation. I was also invited to the rehearsals, where I could stand and have an open dialogue with the actors in what they thought might work well.

Whilst the above might seem standard to what you would expect an interpreter would need in order to help prepare for a theatre production, these things aren’t always available. This can depend on things such as the attitude of the director, i.e. they’ve been told they are having an interpreter in their play, rather than them seeking to make their play more inclusive. This can sometimes lead to challenging discussions about where they want the interpreter to stand on stage and where I believe it would be more beneficial to the deaf audience. It can also be linked to time constraints in that an interpreter is sometimes not sourced until a couple of weeks before the scheduled performance. It was a luxury that I was given the script and met with Dreadnought in spring this year and the BSL interpreted performances did not start until autumn. 

Having more than one performance date I believe helped me to improve as the performances toured in and around Devon and Cornwall. Whilst it is always important to self-reflect after interpreting assignments – particularly theatre work to think about what I could do differently next time for a different show – I actually had the opportunity to have a ‘next time’ for the same play.

Interpreters being scapegoated; access to services for BSL users being denied – I cannot be a bystander….

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As a freelance interpreter I take direct bookings from a hearing or deaf person but also accept work through interpreting agencies. With large public bodies no longer able, or willing, to pay interpreters on an individual basis they  are starting to use agencies to make booking interpreters easier and to make the agencies  responsible for sorting most things , e.g. invoicing, assignment details, etc.

Since working as a sign language interpreter I feel I have good working relationships with a variety of agencies. However, one agency in particular, has not improved its working practices, despite numerous meetings with sign language interpreter associations, legal action taken individually by interpreters, feedback from the local, deaf community or letters sent by unions. Alarmingly, these, seemingly,  poor working practices are being disguised as interpreters not turning up to appointments, i.e. BSL/English interpreters are being used as scapegoats.

Before the agency was awarded the contract for a public service, it was operated by a local, BSL specialist agency. Maybe it’s true what they say, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Because, now that BSL specific agency no longer exists (it ceased operating December 2017), it has left a gap in sourcing interpreters for a  specific domain that this new agency has been unable to fill. It has also meant that we, as interpreters, know how a good agency can be run, e.g. woking alongside its freelance interpreters, rather than seeing them as something that needs to be tolerated.

Among other issues, there are two significant problems which have been a regular occurrence for this agency not only in this new contract but in other contracts they hold in the South West (and from what I am aware of from other interpreting colleagues across the UK, these issues may not be exclusive to the South West peninsula). These issues are: 1) providing a non-registered, unqualified interpreter to medical appointments, and 2) persistent late payments for work undertaken to interpreters and /or no payment at all.

  1. Medical assignments are inherently complex, with high risks if information is misunderstood. The ‘Sick of It’  report published in 2014 https://www.signhealth.org.uk/health-information/sick-of-it-report/  found that BSL users had worse health outcomes than the general population. Not only does this mean missed diagnosis and poor treatment for BSL users, but it costs the NHS £30 million per year. Therefore, any agency providing non-registered interpreters to such assignments are increasing costs to their client- which contracting an agency is supposed to make more less costly. For example, I was told  by an organisation that it is cheaper for them to outsource their interpreting bookings to an agency than it would be to pay someone to manage interpreting bookings because of the costs of a full time salary and the benefit associated with that (sick pay, holidays, etc). Yet, this agency’s policies and procedures stated that they only recruit interpreters who are NRCPD registered https://www.nrcpd.org.uk/index.php. When challenged about this it was stated that this was because the agency was finding it hard to find interpreters who want to work for them . This leads me onto issue number 2:
  2. There has been persistent late/ none payments for a significant period of time since this agency was awarded a contract for a public service in the South West. Since being awarded this new contract recently in Devon, the issue of payments has not improved and has resulted in many interpreters starting legal proceedings to try to retrieve the money they are owed through working for them. This, of course, has meant that a large proportion of most of the interpreters in this area are refusing to work for this agency as there is no guarantee they will be remunerated for the work they have done. And, if they are finally paid, this entails reminder emails, phone calls and texts to chase payment.

So, maybe the answer is simple – I am a freelance interpreter, I can decide who I will and will not work for, right? Well, in some ways – yes. But I like to believe that the majority of interpreters I have worked with have chosen this line of work because we have an interest in the well-being of the people for whom we work. In an article by Street Leverage https://streetleverage.com/2013/02/sign-language-interpreters-and-the-quest-for-a-deaf-heart/  it talks about cultivating a ‘Deaf heart’. It also states that “Part of having a Deaf heart is caring enough about the well-being of Deaf people and their communities to put them above ego, pride, and unwillingness to fight for what is right.” This doesn’t mean that I believe all interpreters should be working for this agency regardless of whether they receive payment for their work. On the contrary, I am proud of myself and other colleagues I know who have worked hard and paid their way to earn their title as a professional. However, it does mean this agency takes advantage of our good will and Deaf heart. And so, the original question above that seemed easy to answer is now grey and unclear as to the outcome. Essentially, if we don’t provide interpretation for these appointments, then who will? And so, do some interpreters find themselves accepting some work regardless of whether they know they will be paid. Not because they don’t care about money – I think this is a naive stance and for the profession to achieve as much as it has done to date, this has meant orchestrating appropriate recompense for our services as sign language interpreters. But, it will mean interpreters cannot turn a blind eye to the issues surrounding them both locally and nationally. Whilst interpreters can still take a stance to not work for this agency, it is therefore necessary and relevant for those interpreters to not act as bystanders to the dire situation unravelling in the Devon area, but to look at ways to make sure voices are heard and actions taken.

There also seems to be a default narrative that when an agency such as this one fails to provide interpreters there is a disservice to the deaf community. But what about the disservice to the hearing folk we also interpret for? Let’s not forget that it is not just about the deaf person, for example, unable to understand the diagnosis from their doctor, but surely it is also about the doctor unable to diagnose their patient? I believe they too have a duty to report such instances and not to be a bystander to these avoidable occurrences. They too have a responsibility to investigate why an interpreter was not present at an appointment or ask to see their ID badge which should show they are part of NRCPD.

It does not have to be like this when working with agencies. Many agencies I work with demonstrate their ability to do a good service to the service user (both deaf and hearing) and form a good, working relationship with its interpreters. Almost as if the agency and the interpreters have the same aim – providing high quality interpreting for both the deaf and hearing client! What is currently taking place in the South West IS avoidable, unnecessary and needs to be stopped and action taken by all parties involved – the deaf community, interpreters and hearing folk. As the ASLI representative for the Devon and Cornwall interpreters, but also as an interpreter directly affected by this, I will be part of this action and not a bystander.

Who’s with me?

 

Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/57466809@N07/5607861762/in/photolist-9xxKVL-qfuFfA-oV1Vjf-av9WYv-7a84GA-gkWRzJ-7zdceS-86DmKm-pMyZ6m-dxr8hK-vA2wN-RNWKM6-nftAEv-59MbZg-rRvKH-7QaAjH-VkHg62-pY9duu-dNMntv-U1BwSP-ewAY1r-UvXgDg-TKk99s-jrTMjs-TrRTgV-R7hY7n-aBNPhb-wbhNeY-4m5NuZ-bZ374-o5ZhXc-no2K1x-5R8UR3-dK1Eis-Tv81im-bQcGhn-dB6UZe-CGw82S-p3uFTA-d68M9W-2A2Sus-3YsXBy-cbnpq-65Nuan-eWd1fV-6cY1Jh-57s47x-d9KDXv-CiyiMG-bkQWJt

Subtitle It!

5754743006_ab4e5268fe_bRecently I was with my dad and we were going to watch a film on Sky via Virgin Media. My dad is hard of hearing (old age – sorry dad) – but no subtitles were available. I thought I must have been doing something wrong because – hello – it’s 2015 – of course they would provide subtitles. I am not technologically minded, but how hard can it be to subtitle a film or programme?! When I looked into it on the internet I found hundreds of comments on the Sky ‘community forum’ asking for the reason why films weren’t being subtitled. Comments as recent as April 2015, such as this: Hi I have been waiting for subtitles to arrive for catch up and on demand but no joy. I have just started to watch on Amazon Prime and can get subtitles for some of the content so when is Sky going to play catch up?I love the fact there is so much to watch on sky but unfortunately being deaf it is no good to me. Thanks” (http://helpforum.sky.com/t5/On-Demand-Catch-Up-TV/Subtitles-for-catch-up-and-on-demand/td-p/2326136 )This isn’t the only time when my father wasn’t able to enjoy a TV programme or film – most evenings when he watches BBC news with the subtitles – he has to piece together what is being said by having the volume as high as he can without the vibrations of the TV disturbing the sound quality and the disjointed subtitling. So, not only is the lack of subtitling unacceptable, the inaccuracy of subtitling – whilst possibly, funny to us who can hear, can be insulting to the deaf and hard of hearing community. Recently SL First magazine released an article about the importance of subtitling, with the conclusion being that although some progress on subtitling has been made, there is still a long way to go. Check out the article and some mistakes/inaccuracies that have been made on TV here: http://slfirst.co.uk/entertainment/captioned-signed/ofcom-some-progress-on-subtitles-but-further-progress-needed/

Looking to my deaf friends and their individual perspectives on the situation I had some interesting comments. One of my friends recognised that the BBC appear to have a high percentage of their programmes subtitled, however they noted that the infinite number of other programmes available on freeview and other such TV packages appeared to have limited subtitling. Another comment from a different deaf friend was that despite being an avid film lover, and paying for a ‘LoveFilm’ subscription, some of the DVDs he was sent did not have subtitles. What’s more, the LoveFilm website does not make it clear whether the DVD you are ordering will have subtitles or not and it seems to be a luck of the draw whether you receive a DVD with subtitles. I also read on the blog ‘Day in the Life of a Deafie’ https://dayinthelifeofadeafie.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/video-on-demand-services-subtitle-it/ – See how E says “Without subtitles it’s like I am being excluded from the world”.

Coincidentally to me writing this blog, Action on Hearing Loss have recently launched a campaign called ‘Subtitle It!’ http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/SubtitleIt.aspx Action on Hearing Loss state that 80% ‘on demand’ providers do not offer any subtitles for on demand content. The government has pledged to review legislation for subtitling on demand services next year (2016) – please sign this petition to ensure this is a priority and that the government keeps their promise http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1783&ea.campaign.id=38715&ea.tracking.id=WebCampaignPage . Furthermore, looking at America where the amount of subtitled on demand content is high – if they can do it – why can’t Britain?! I have also found that the famous, American, deaf, actress – Marlee Matlin (‘Children of a Lesser God’ and ‘The West Wing’) who is supporting the campaign – ‘VIKI Billion Words March’ where an online TV site streams content in more than 200 languages. Viewers subtitle and translate popular TV shows from around the world (http://www.viki.com/billionwordsmarch)

Regardless of the TV programme, I don’t feel subtitling accurately and consistently is rocket science. People petitioning for this basic right is not something so far-fetched that it is impossible to achieve. We therefore need as much support as possible to ensure that subtitling is featured on all programmes and features accurately. I expect if you think about it now, you can think of someone who could benefit from subtitling.

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dno1967b/5754743006/in Daniel Oines.

Lip reading – hearing loss not necessarily predicting ability…

LipsI am amazed at those that can communicate through lip reading. I have had a go at it myself, e.g. when out in a club and trying to lip read my friends as to what they are trying to say to me – not hard considering it’s usually either “Do you want another drink?” and “Let’s dance!” As long as I catch the word “drink” or “dance” then it’s not rocket science to know what they are trying to say. I have also tried lip reading by turning off the sound on my TV and trying to lip read what is being said – for me, this is nearly impossible! Every day I meet deaf people that rely on lip reading to communicate. My concern is that this is then taken for granted as the main communication method the deaf person prefers to use. I remember one deaf person telling me that it is awkward when one hearing person introduces her by saying “This is ‘X’ she’s deaf but can lip read really well!” Lady ‘X’ says that although she can lip read she wished people wouldn’t rely on this. Why? Because lip reading is hard work! The deaf health charity – Sign Health, states that it is a myth that deaf people can understand 100% of a conversation through lip reading (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/national-lipreading-awareness-week/) What’s more, they state that “Lip reading requires a huge amount of concentration and perfect environmental conditions, and even when both of those factors are achieved, a D/deaf person can only understand 20%-60% of a conversation.” 20% to 60% of a conversation – so what happens to the rest of the 40% of the discourse? As a hearing person, whilst I may not always fully understand what a doctor has said to me at least I have received the whole message to be able to have the option of asking questions to clarify what I have heard. However, Sign Health have found from their ‘Sick of It’ report that only 3% of deaf people want to communicate with their doctor via lip reading, but 40% are forced to (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/national-lipreading-awareness-week/).  Don’t get me wrong, I expect there are deaf people who are happy to communicate via lip reading, that is their choice! But as my previous blog says about “Choices https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/22/choices/” and as Sign Health states – the best thing is to ask how the deaf person wants to communicate and to not make assumptions about their communication needs. Every deaf person is, of course, different and therefore we can expect people who are deaf to have differing communication needs. What’s more, whilst a person who is deaf may be able to lip read one person this does not necessarily mean they will be able to with another person. So many factors such as accent, facial hair all have a part to play in the ease/difficulty of lip reading. As the Scottish Sensory Centre at Edinburgh University have stated – “There is naturally individual variation in the ability to lipread, and as with any skill, competence varies, with level of hearing loss not necessarily predicting ability.” (http://www.ssc.education.ed.ac.uk/courses/deaf/ddec05f.html)

So many words look the same on the mouth from what is actually being said. We know that this is true just by the amount of videos out there at the moment which are dubbed for comedy value  – take a look at this- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjGk_jU6t5A. Whilst this video does have comedy value, it also has a serious undertone about how ambiguous lip reading can be. Whilst there may be some situations where lip reading can be used to ‘get by’ and get the gist of what is being said, I do believe there are other situations such as a GP and hospital appointments where getting by, i.e. receiving 20% -60% of the message isn’t good enough and could have devastating consequences.

Picture sourced from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fauxpress/ Jan McLaughlin

Is some access better than no access at all?

318947873_12028f1b66_oThis is a question that crops-up time and time again in my profession  – and one which doesn’t have an easy answer in my opinion. One thing that springs to mind when thinking about this is the abysmal access the deaf community received at Nelson Mandela’s funeral with the fake interpreter. It is still not clear to me why he was hired in the first place. Perhaps it was a case of forgetting to book an interpreter and they were in desperate need of someone and he was the only one available; or perhaps he came out cheapest – some similar reasons I hear now and again why an interpreter wasn’t booked.  Whatever the reason in this situation, if this was the only person available (and I find that hard to believe) but let’s just say he was – then I would think the right decision would be not to provide an interpreter at all.

Speaking to a deaf lady recently, she said that perhaps it depends on the situation which requires an interpreter. She gave the example of a child protection meeting compared to a parents evening, giving less weight to the importance of a registered interpreter at a parents evening. Another example she gave is the utmost importance of having a registered interpreter available at a GP or hospital appointment so that the deaf person goes away with the full knowledge of what was their problem, diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, as the charity SignHealth has found all too often this is not the case as shown by the ‘Sick Of It’ report (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/health-information/sick-of-it-report/sick-of-it-in-english/sick-of-it-poor-treatment/ ) However, whilst this particular deaf lady may feel that she could tolerate an unregistered interpreter/signer, another deaf person’s view could be that this would be unacceptable. Perhaps this comes back to my previous blog about ‘choices’ https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/22/choices/.  That is, is it the deaf person’s right to choose who is and is not acceptable to interpret for them depending on their opinion of the situation?

As the deaf lady said, if she knew a person who was a proficient signer but had no qualifications to prove this and she wanted to use that person then she said that it was surely her right to have that person if she wished. I agree. Perhaps the problem lies when that choice is denied – that is, the deaf person wasn’t given the option. What’s more, perhaps one deaf person can get by with a level 2 signer that a school provided for a parents evening because they are able and happy to lip-read most of what the teacher is saying, so the signer is barely needed, except to clarify a few words lost on the lips. But how will that affect other deaf parents in the future? Perhaps in two years’ time in the same school a deaf parent will require an interpreter but is provided with an unregistered interpreter with no choice in the matter because the school saw how it ‘worked so well’ for a previous deaf parent so they now don’t understand why there should be a problem. The problem could be that this deaf parent finds it difficult to lip-read and can’t follow English as well as the previous deaf person (for example). Is there also an issue of hearing people being under a misapprehension when an unregistered interpreter and/or signer is used? They could believe that access has been provided and the needs of the deaf person matched by a level 2 signer being provided. However, that perception may well have been misinformed due to the hearing person having limited signing skills themselves and sees a person waving their hands about as satisfactory (as I probably would if I heard a German interpreter as I cannot speak or understand German).  Couple that with the deaf person declining to complain, and it could be assumed all is well and standards don’t need to be improved.

Furthermore, although it is about choice, if the deaf person was asked their preference how does this impact on the deaf person in feeling pressurised to accept a signer which is less costly than a registered interpreter? As with all people, this doesn’t just relate to the deaf community .  Some of us can be assertive and are aware of our rights, whereas others could feel obligated to accept whatever is provided and don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. Perhaps this contributes to the devastating results found in SignHealth’s ‘Sick of It’ report.

On top of that,  there is a lot more to interpreting than just being skilled in BSL. Swabey and Mickleson (2008 cited in Valero Garces and Martin 2008, p51) described sign language as “complex, linguistic, social cognitive and cultural process” and that interpreters have the potential impact on people’s lives (Swabey and Mickelson 2008 cited in Valero Garces and Martin 2008). Furthermore, an interpreter needs to be a holistic thinker, have reflective skills and be observant about experiences (Napier, Mckee and Goswell 2010). Therefore, whilst an unregistered interpreter / signer may have excellent linguistic skills, do they have the other attributes that have been described above to ensure high standards are maintained for the deaf person receiving the service?  Whilst it could be argued that registered newly qualified or trainee interpreters may not have attained all of the skills listed above, the assumption is that by being on a training course the interpreter is aware of their learning needs and seeking ways to achieve this.

Overall, this makes me think it’s about the importance of deaf people choosing who they wish to interpret for them. At the end of the day I am in my profession for the deaf community, so they should ultimately have the say on who they want to use as an interpreter (registered or not). I don’t believe there is anything wrong with trying to strive for the best.  One of the biggest reasons I believe in using registered interpreters is to promote, and to endeavour to have, the highest standards of interpreting available for all of the deaf community – that is if they want it.

References:

  • Swabey, L and Mickelson, P,G (2008) ‘Role Definition’ in Valero-Garces, C and Martin, A Crossing Borders in Community Interpreting Definitions and Dilemmas (2008) Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing Company, P51-71;
  • Napier, J, Mckee, R and Goswell, D (2010) Sign Language Interpreting Theory and Practice in Australia and New Zealand, Sydney, Federation Press;

Photo by Oberazzi found here – https://www.flickr.com/photos/oberazzi/