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….

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How to book an Interpreter….

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Taking for granted that everyone knows how to book a BSL / English interpreter is easily done. I work every day with those that book and work with interpreters (both hearing and deaf) so I risk the assumption that, of course, EVERYONE knows how to book one (or two, or however many you need). However, talking to those that do not work in the field of interpreting or connected to it in any way, this reminds me that it could be an unfamiliar and possibly, quite a daunting task. For those of you that often book interpreters then have a look below to see if there is anything that could make the process easier….

Whichever your preferred method of contact there is some essential information which the interpreter will need to know initially before a booking can be finalised….the date and time. This is important so that the interpreter can check their diary and get back to you ASAP. Not certain of the date and time? No problem, the important thing is that both you and the interpreter are flexible enough to determine a time and date that suits both of you. An interpreter may be able to hold a date that you have in mind with the agreement that you will get back to them with more finalised information.

So, if the time and date has been discussed, the interpreter will need to know the expected length of the booking. Working from English to BSL or BSL to English is a tiring task and usually after about 45 minutes of non-stop interpreting my brain is frazzled and I need a short break! If the length of the booking is longer than 45 minutes best practice dictates booking two interpreters. This means that they can both co-work together. Usually one interpreter will decide to work 15 to 20 minutes on their own and then swap with their co-worker and vice versa throughout the length of the assignment. There can be times when one interpreter could work solo for the entire day, but they would need lots of breaks to avoid interpreting overload! These breaks are not only for the interpreter to recharge but also to ensure the quality of interpreting is consistent. For an interpreter to say that they don’t need breaks means that the quality of either their English or BSL being produced will be poor. Thus, one of the main aims of having an interpreter, i.e. that communication is clear and accurate between both the hearing and deaf client(s), would not be achieved.

Prep would be grand, thanks. Sometimes, with a short booking, it may not be possible to provide prep (e.g. information that can help the interpreter have a better understanding or can research about the assignment, such as powerpoint slides, meeting minutes, etc). It is worth considering that, what might be pointless to you could be meaningful to the interpreter. For example, I interpret a lot of religious services and on many occasions the person preaching delivers their sermon ad-lib (that’s their style, fair enough!). However, when I ask them about their ‘scribbled notes’ as they like to call them, this is really handy because I then know the aim of their message/sermon and what they want their ‘take home message’ to be for those listening. If I know this then I can keep this in mind when interpreting. I can also research more around the topic and practice how I would interpret phrases and signs. Also, having this prep in advance is vital. Most of those who knew me when I was studying at Cardiff or when doing my Diploma at UCLAN knew that my brain sort of switched itself off after about 10.00pm, I was not one of those people that could work ‘through the night’ as some of my peers would say (you’ll be pleased to know I am an early-bird). That means, receiving prep late at night before the booking isn’t always helpful to me.  

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Please provide the address of where you would like the interpreter to go. Preferably the full address, but the name of the venue and the postcode is always important. Hopefully, most interpreters will not make the same mistake I have done in the past which is to rely solely on their satnav to direct them where to go. I now know to plan the route on google maps or on an equivalent tool. Living in Devon is great, but the satnav can get quite confused.

It is always good to know before you make a booking that of who will pay. There is a service provided by the government called Access to Work (A2W). This could help with funding to pay for an interpreter. The service is there for anyone whose health or disability affects the way they do their job. Have a look at this factsheet for more information about A2W: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/307036/employer-guide-atw-dwpf03a.pdf

You are allowed to change your mind – this can happen, events, appointments, meetings (whatever you needed your interpreter for) can get cancelled. If you cancel me before 14 days of the booking then no charge is incurred whatsoever. Therefore, if you know you need to make a cancellation, best to do it ASAP.

Remember: By making contact with me does not mean you are obliged to book me as an interpreter. If you just want to know more information, discuss costs or have some questions, that isn’t a problem – always happy to help :).

So now you know what to do. If you want to make a booking for a BSL Interpreter or have some more questions then please do get in contact either by phone: 07791442625; Email: chall86@outlook.com or leave a reply here on my website; and, you can always contact me via twitter @CHHInterpreting