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.

Deaf awareness – for what it’s worth…..

This week (4th to 10th  May 2015) is deaf awareness week, so I thought it was worth re-sharing my previous blog about why I think deaf awareness is important and some tips to encourage those of you who want to become more deaf aware….

At the moment, deaf awareness seems to be a very popular, interchangeably used, term. I’m not sure if some people really know what is meant by it and its worth. I include myself in this category, saying things such as ‘they need more deaf awareness!’ but perhaps overlooking the fact that hearing people are not naturally deaf aware. Maybe, I have gotten used to the unfortunate fact that a good proportion of people I work with do not have any deaf awareness – even if as a trained interpreter I have methods to try and quickly educate the hearing person in the 15-20 minutes I have before the interpreting begins. Maybe my attitude links back to the point I made in my previous blog (‘How to book an Interpreter’) about taking things for granted. I take for granted that people have an innate deaf awareness. I hear myself saying things such as “She is deaf, why would anyone treat her any differently?!” or “If I met a deaf person for the first time and wasn’t an interpreter I am sure I’d know the basics of being deaf aware or ‘deaf friendly”.

That just isn’t the case. I recently witnessed an event where there was no deaf awareness from the hearing person. The consequence of this was upset to the deaf people and hearing person; confusion for both; and, ultimately, discrimination to the people who were deaf. Recently, Gloucestershire Deaf Association (GDA) released a video called ‘Dave the signer’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JH6zV2ltsQ. If you haven’t already watched it then I really recommend that you do!! It is produced very well and it’s very funny! I remember forwarding it to my friend who replied “SHOCKING!” He is right, it is shocking, to which I replied “Sadly, this is the reality for a lot of deaf people.” My recent experience proved this. Without deaf awareness, people could be excluded and in this 21st century, this can’t be acceptable or necessary.

In my last experience, there was a lot of worry about health and safety linked to people who were deaf. I know, health and safety does have to be a consideration, but honestly, how do you think people who are deaf managed in the past?! Believe me, with some of the current, poor, provision for people who are deaf – having fire alarms with no flashing red light for example, they have had to develop strategies  and know what to do, long before any health and safety regulation was introduced. In a similar situation, the other day I attended a lifeguarding course and the trainer was unsure how a person who is deaf could become one. The trainer missed what one of their hearing colleagues remarked: that as hearing people rely on their hearing, people who are deaf rely on their eyes. For lifeguarding this is ideal, and she went on to say that they usually spot someone in danger long before the hearing lifeguard does. So again, how do you think people who are deaf get by in everyday life?! I don’t believe there are more deaths or injuries because of someone being deaf.

Below I have some tips for someone who wants to be more deaf aware. Before I move onto these tips I think it is important to say that people should have the opportunity to become deaf aware at a younger age. I know that not everyone will meet a person who is deaf (although I find that hard to imagine) and I think it’s brilliant that so many businesses, individuals and charities have taken the initiative to go on courses to be more deaf aware. But is this something people could be learning in schools? For example, I know that at the moment Danielle Williams http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lets-break-the-silence is trying to get British Sign Language taught in schools – this would help normalise it and it wouldn’t be so alien. I have seen people appear unnerved when meeting a deaf person for the first time. I still witness people’s attitudes that it is a ‘lesser’ language or some sort of strange way of communicating – where has this attitude come from and why is it still present in 2015?!

So, the tips…this is not a comprehensive list and is not a one size fits all for every deaf or hard of hearing person you meet. I hope these will aid or improve your communication in the future:

  • Before starting to talk to the deaf person make sure you have their attention (you may need to wave or tap them);
  • Face the deaf person and make eye contact;
  • Speak clearly, don’t over-exaggerate your lip pattern, just speak like you normally would;
  • Tell the person who is deaf the topic of the conversation;
  • If you are in a group of people, speak one at a time;
  • If someone doesn’t understand you, don’t keep repeating it. Try saying it in a different way. Also, don’t give up or say ‘it doesn’t matter’ – imagine someone saying that to you, it’s not nice!
  • Be open and honest – if you are unsure of the protocol of using an interpreter (where or where not to look, etc.) just ask. Attitude is key!
  • Try your best. Of course we cannot all be proficient signers, but there are other ways, e.g. gesturing, perhaps the deaf person can lip read, pointing to things. Perhaps if you have learnt some signing in school you could use a little?
  • If you are communicating with a deaf person, look at them (not the interpreter!) I know it can be strange at first because people who are hearing will instinctively look at whoever is talking, but no eye contact with the deaf person is rude!

Registered interpreters – what’s all the fuss about??

FullSizeRenderA lot of people ask me why they need to book a registered BSL / English interpreter compared to someone who is not registered. These same people are also usually uncertain as to what it means for an interpreter to be registered. Are there any benefits?

For all interpreters who are registered, it means they have been checked by the regulatory body – NRCPD (http://www.nrcpd.org.uk/page.php?content=4) and so they have passed all the necessary qualifications and exams to work safely and competently with the deaf and deafblind community. They have achieved the minimum standards expected for BSL/English interpreters in the UK. Not only this, but it also means that they are continuing to ensure their skills and competencies are up to date. This is because they have to prove every year that they are undertaking continued professional development (CPD). I am no exception and so every year I need to show what I have been doing to ensure my interpreting skills are kept spot on. NRCPD will spot check different interpreters every year to check proof of CPD. So, I couldn’t have just achieved my diploma for interpreting and never study or learn about BSL again. Personally, amongst other things, I meet with a mentor where I can discuss how I can continue to improve, I go on courses such as medical interpreting, so I can learn how to interpret clearly and accurately for medical appointments and I am constantly watching programmes interpreted by deaf translators to learn from native signers.

Booking an interpreter who is registered makes it safe for both the hearing and deaf person using the interpreter. This is because if things go a bit awry and you aren’t happy with the interpreting / interpreter then you have a process by which you can complain. If the interpreter is not registered then you have no one to whom to complain and could be vulnerable to interpreter malpractice, or ‘cowboy’ interpreting as we like to call it.

Being registered also means I have to adhere to a code of conduct (http://www.nrcpd.org.uk/page.php?content=30 ):

Confidentiality – I am not allowed to talk to anyone other than who was present at the assignment about what I have interpreted or the information I heard or saw signed. This not only means my friends and family but also anyone else that might be connected directly or indirectly to the hearing or deaf person, e.g. their manager, work colleague or friends and family.

Competence – although I have been qualified for over a year now, there are still some assignments that I would not venture into until I have a couple more years’ experience, such as those which are mental health-related. Maintaining reflective practice about my skills with my mentor and on my own after different assignments makes me realistic about which assignments to accept.

Integrity – this links with competence and being honest about my skills but also to be honest in what I do and maintain professionalism.

Impartiality – this is another reason why it is important to have a registered interpreter – I am not on anyone’s side. I remain impartial to both the deaf and hearing parties and facilitate communication faithfully. People always ask me ‘If they swear, will you swear?’ Yes I will – if that’s what they said/signed!

Professional Development – this goes back to the point above about making sure my skills are kept up to date. I have explained to people in the past that I need to constantly keep learning about the language and that it is an evolving language. I give the example of the sign for telephone as this has changed over the years because what a telephone looks like has changed over the years. People seem surprised when I say that the language is evolving, but so are all languages! You only have to look in an English dictionary to see the words that wouldn’t have been known about 30 years ago, e.g. ‘Simples’ and ‘Choon’ (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ ).

I have seen a person who is deaf be asked whether they wanted to use their partner rather than an interpreter for an appointment. On this occasion I don’t think the hearing person suggested this on the basis of costs (as explained in my previous blog https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/15/cutting-costs-who-are-we-kidding/ ), I think they genuinely thought that perhaps the deaf person would want their spouse with them to interpret. However, whilst I know a few deaf people that want their sister or brother present, not only could it be embarrassing for the deaf person having to bring their family member along to different appointments in their life, it is highly likely they don’t follow the code of conduct. Just some of the things that could go wrong are the family member not interpreting everything so as to ‘protect’ the deaf person, e.g. at a medical appointment – they might miss out the ‘bad’ bits. But -this doesn’t promote choice as the deaf person has the right to the entire interaction between them and the hearing person. Similarly, someone who is not registered (and therefore possibly not achieved the desired standard to be a BSL/English interpreter) could miss out bits of information that they find hard to sign, not giving the deaf person full access to the information being shared. What’s more, if the signer (notice I say ‘signer’ not interpreter) cannot voice-over what the deaf person is signing then the hearing person will not be privy to the information being shared and it is highly likely a breakdown in communication will occur.

Check the register here to see which interpreters are registered: http://www.nrcpd.org.uk/page.php?content=55