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

5607861762_a61fbd3928_z

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

Co-working -shall we do 20 minutes?

teamwork-709666_960_720The other day I had arrived to interpret a meeting with another interpreter (my co-worker). One of the hearing attendees of the meeting asked me why there was a need for two interpreters (as opposed to just me). Without thought I quickly replied that it was linked to the fact that interpreters cannot work for long periods of time without fatigue having an effect on their interpreting ability and so the other interpreter can take over after about 20 minutes (implying after the interpreter had swapped with me I could then rest). The second interpreter then quickly added that it was not just about turn takings to reduce fatigue, but also to feed the ‘working’ interpreter any information they may have missed or not heard, to write down jargon, names or dates, etc. These are just some of the main reasons for why a second interpreter would need to be booked for some assignments. Looking back I am quite shocked by the rather simplistic answer I gave and I have been trying to look at the possible reasons for this.

The assignment mentioned above made me look at the way I work with other interpreters. Am I at risk of slipping into an old-fashioned way of working and perception of co-working? I.e. seeing my co-worker and me as two independent interpreters taking turns independently so that one interpreter can ‘work’ whilst the other can ‘rest’.

Co-working or ‘team interpreting’ as it is more commonly described is said to account for approximately 30% of interpreting assignments Hozam (2010). Team interpreting has been defined as “…the use of more than one interpreter to provide communication effectively to and from all participants.” Carnet, Giovanna (2008). It is also stated that team interpreting occurs in situations that are lengthy, complex in nature, involve unique needs of the persons being served, or have special physical or emotional dynamics Hozam (2010).

Why, when looking back at some of the assignments when I have worked with another interpreter has our focus been solely on swapping times (how long the interpreter producing the target language, e.g. spoken English or BSL ‘works’ before they stop and swap with the other interpreter). I have put the term ‘works’ in inverted commas because of the apparent, common, misconception from those not familiar with why interpreters sometimes require a co-worker. I have had numerous conversations when questions are asked such as “So what do you do when the other interpreter is working?” and “Are you bored?” You may be happy to know that when I have been asked such questions, I have taken the opportunity to explain the interpreters role and even felt almost defensive to the fact that I had not been daydreaming or even planning my evening whilst my co-worker was left to work on their own –I too had in fact been working. As Hozam (2010) explains, the accuracy of the interpreted message does not only rest on the interpreter who appears to be working (the one actively interpreting) but it is a shared responsibility. Therefore, the interpreter who appears to be sat still is still an ‘active’ interpreter by doing all of the tasks that have been described earlier in this blog, e.g. feeding information that has been misheard, writing down facts and figures and also providing reassurance to their colleague. This is a more ‘collaborative’ approach as described by Hozam (2010) and is a model I want to follow. This is in comparison to the rather old fashioned view of co-working that both interpreters are independent of each other, waiting to take turns. I believe most if not all of the interpreters I have had the pleasure of working with in the Devon and Cornwall region also work towards more of a collaborative model. However, I know this has not always been the case by the following story I was told by a local interpreter. This was when this same interpreter was delivering the target language and their co-worker promptly brought out their wool and knitting needles to what I can only presume was to catch-up on some much needed knitting! Not the collaborative approach the local interpreter was hoping for.

I am not ignoring the fact that to avoid overuse syndrome/repetitive strain injury (RSI) through excessive repetitive movement without rest is one of the reasons two interpreters may need to be booked for an assignment. Not only this but an interpreter without rest will see the quality of their interpreting diminish – this can diminish after 30 minutes because of fatigue Hozam (2010), but the reasons for booking more than one interpreter is not only because of this.

Conversations with colleagues before I start an assignment are paramount to contributing to a successful interpretation, but these conversations should not focus only on switching times (these are important none the less to avoid confusion and to ensure equal distribution of workloads (http://www.academia.edu/8603248/Austrian_Perspectives_of_Team_Interpreting_-_The_Views_of_Deaf_University_Students_and_their_Sign_Language_Interpreters). Hozam (2010) states that discussing feeding styles in advance is essential to achieve this collaborative approach. I can relate to this as there have been some occasions where I have not known how the person likes to be fed. I know one colleague who likes to be fed by signing to them, but if someone was to feed a misheard name, word or number to me this would certainly throw me and could cause disruption in delivering the target language (having the opposite effect of what a feed is supposed to do!)

Therefore having these conversations with co-workers at the beginning of an assignment can reduce the risk of the comprehension of the target text being impeded, described as “A lack of harmony in the production of the teaming process” (http://www.academia.edu/8603248/Austrian_Perspectives_of_Team_Interpreting_-_The_Views_of_Deaf_University_Students_and_their_Sign_Language_Interpreters). By being more confident in the various reasons for the need of a co-worker should mean I can work as a team more effectively. Not only this but in a time where providing just one interpreter for an assignment is coming under more scrutiny because of purse strings being allegedly tightened, then the need for interpreters to be more informative and spread awareness about the motives for co-working is essential.

 

References:

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