Passing on the baton to the next Devon and Cornwall ASLI Rep

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Me with fellow Devon and Cornwall ASLI members at the ASLI consultation in London.

I can remember my first Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) meeting back in autumn/winter 2013. At that time I was a trainee interpreter and was (hopefully) going to be qualified by early 2014. I started out on my route towards becoming a qualified interpreter knowing that becoming registered with NRCPD was almost mandatory but becoming a member of ASLI was also something which I felt was really important. 

Whilst being registered with the registering body NRCPD  which I would suggest is essential to practice safely as a BSL/English Interpreter, being a member of ASLI wasn’t actually a  necessity. I could have gone to any membership body similar to ASLI, or even taken out insurance through a commercial insurance company. However, the camaraderie I could see and feel between ASLI members was something I certainly wanted to be part of. I remember from my post graduate degree from the University of Central Lancashire that some of my cohort sniggered that I would pay what they believed, high membership fees when I could join a much cheaper membership organisation. But for me, it wasn’t just about getting insurance, it was about being part of a members organisation which “encourages good practice in sign language interpreting and to support our fellow professionals.” (https://www.asli.org.uk) This, I felt I had found in the membership in ASLI Devon and Cornwall. A few months later I expressed my interest in becoming the rep for ASLI Devon and Cornwall and I have represented this region for about 3 years. 

Being an ASLI rep has meant that I have had the opportunity to represent the views of members from this region at AGMs and consultation days. Organising the bi-monthly regional meetings has given me a greater opportunity to speak to and see the majority of the ASLI members in the region on a regular basis. ASLI has given me a lot in terms of colleagues, friendships, training, best practice guidance- the list goes on. But as one fellow ASLI board member reminded me recently, it is not only what a member can get from ASLI but also what you can put in! ASLI is a members-run organisation and for me, I have felt it very easy to contact the relevant people and channels of communication to get my voice heard and my views taken into consideration.

I will miss being a rep for ASLI Devon and Cornwall, but I am looking forward to new beginnings. That is, not only the new ASLI rep taking on the baton, but also very proudly seeing my great colleague from Devon – Emily Quigley become a member of the ASLI board which I know will mean great things for ASLI. What’s more, excitingly we have the ASLI AGM coming to the West Country in Exeter which is amazing and I am really looking forward to members travelling to the West. Thank you members of ASLI Devon and Cornwall for being such a great bunch of people. 

NB: This is post is not disregarding other membership organisations but I have no experience of those and so can only describe the membership body of which I am part, i.e. ASLI. 

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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

Are two heads better than one?

Pub quizLooking at the certificate recently hung on my wall – telling me I’m a fully qualified BSL / English interpreter – a sense of relief waved over me.  I realised that I had no more exams, essays or assessments like I did when I was training at university. Great! However, it’s not the end of the road for me as a student of interpreting, British Sign Language (BSL) or even the English language.  My journey to improve my skill set as an interpreter and provide the standard of interpreting my clients expect from me continues.

One of the regulatory bodies –NRCPD (have a look at my ‘Registration’ page for more info https://chhinterpreting.com/regsitration-new/) states that to be a registered interpreter and to meet the requirements to work safely and competently, interpreters need to undertake a specific number of hours of Continued Professional Development (CPD) every year. Refusal or the inability to do this can mean an interpreter being taken off the register. But, should we be doing more as interpreters to maintain our competency? There is a feeling amongst some interpreters that CPD could be, for some, something they have to do, i.e. attend what is required of them such as training events/conferences/meetings, and then sign a bit of paper to prove they were present, but perhaps not really having much motivation in learning or being involved. Some interpreters question whether such actions proves competency? (I don’t have a specific opinion on this, but there has been a big debate by the interpreting community already on online forums).

I recently attended a round table event where most if not all of the interpreters present strongly felt that the BSL/English interpreting profession needs to become a more reflective one. That is, reflective in regards to being more open about the way we do things in an assignment. Although our ability to sign and to produce a coherent voice over are some of the factors to be reflective upon, it was agreed that it is important to take a more holistic approach about an assignment, rather than focussing solely on the signs that were used. For example, looking at things that could have affected the interpreting process, such as – was it difficult to hear the speaker because of background noise? Or, was it just really hot in the room? (Looking at Dean and Pollard Demand-Control theory for guidance http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/1/1.short ).  One way considered to start encouraging interpreters to be more reflective about their work is having time after the assignment for debriefing. This could either be factored into the job’s allocated time, or it could start to become the norm that after most assignments there will be some debriefing time with your co-worker. In due course, could this become a cultural shift of becoming a more reflective practice?

Of course, I am aware this concept of becoming more reflective is nothing new. Interpreters (including myself) are already doing this in different ways. That could be with a co-worker after some assignments, with a mentor, or through supervision.  Also, it may be that you feel that you already are reflective without anyone else’s perspective and – as someone has already said on the forum ENEWSLI – are we not the best judge of whether our performance as an interpreter is improving? But maybe two heads are better than one?

The main reason, personally, of wanting to become more reflective is to show improvement. When I say ‘show’ I don’t mean proving to other people, but to have the confidence in myself to know that I am on the right track. Another suggestion on how to do this is having a sort of M.O.T for interpreters every 5 years.  This could be paying another interpreter to come and assess you as you work on a particular assignment and give feedback afterwards. I am doing something similar at the moment but instead I am filming myself and then reviewing this with my mentor. Another suggestion was that an interpreter wanting a M.O.T may wish to film themselves and then show it to a group of peers for discussion (although most people didn’t like the idea of lots of people analysing and reviewing their work).  An article from Street Leverage states “All practice professionals need a safe place that allows them to honestly analyse, understand and critique their work.”  (http://www.streetleverage.com/2015/03/horizontal-violence-can-sign-language-interpreters-break-the-cycle/ )

Something that also came up at the round table discussion was the importance that debriefing can be rather different from feedback. For example, debriefing isn’t coming out of the assignment and asking the question “So, how do you think I did???” It is something to talk through with a mentor or supervisor/supervision group. Giving feedback doesn’t come easy to people. I go to a mentor who has been trained how to give constructive feedback, rather than subjective impression (too nice because they are afraid to say anything negative, or too critical which could have detrimental effect on the person receiving the feedback). Furthermore, we are at an assignment to interpret, not of course to take up our head-space with reviewing and analysing another person’s work. So, being reflective is hard work.  As noted above – debriefing is looking at an assignment as a whole.

So, whilst in no way am I dismissing the value of CPD – on the contrary – I think any training / conferences/ forums / or similar you attend, you can’t help but learn and take things in (unless perhaps you shut your eyes and put your fingers in your ears). This can also be another way to reflect on what you are doing, particularly when you attend training. But I am asking, is CPD enough for my continued advancement as an interpreter? And I think having more opportunities to be reflective would benefit me personally and, I believe, the profession as a whole.  After all, the whole point of becoming a reflective practitioner is to ensure the interpreting assignment for the client (deaf or hearing) matches their needs and they receive the service I have so confidently said I can provide on my website!

Photo above: A picture recently taken at a pub quiz where two/lots of heads were definitely better than just one!