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

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/

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