Lip reading – hearing loss not necessarily predicting ability…

LipsI am amazed at those that can communicate through lip reading. I have had a go at it myself, e.g. when out in a club and trying to lip read my friends as to what they are trying to say to me – not hard considering it’s usually either “Do you want another drink?” and “Let’s dance!” As long as I catch the word “drink” or “dance” then it’s not rocket science to know what they are trying to say. I have also tried lip reading by turning off the sound on my TV and trying to lip read what is being said – for me, this is nearly impossible! Every day I meet deaf people that rely on lip reading to communicate. My concern is that this is then taken for granted as the main communication method the deaf person prefers to use. I remember one deaf person telling me that it is awkward when one hearing person introduces her by saying “This is ‘X’ she’s deaf but can lip read really well!” Lady ‘X’ says that although she can lip read she wished people wouldn’t rely on this. Why? Because lip reading is hard work! The deaf health charity – Sign Health, states that it is a myth that deaf people can understand 100% of a conversation through lip reading (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/national-lipreading-awareness-week/) What’s more, they state that “Lip reading requires a huge amount of concentration and perfect environmental conditions, and even when both of those factors are achieved, a D/deaf person can only understand 20%-60% of a conversation.” 20% to 60% of a conversation – so what happens to the rest of the 40% of the discourse? As a hearing person, whilst I may not always fully understand what a doctor has said to me at least I have received the whole message to be able to have the option of asking questions to clarify what I have heard. However, Sign Health have found from their ‘Sick of It’ report that only 3% of deaf people want to communicate with their doctor via lip reading, but 40% are forced to (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/national-lipreading-awareness-week/).  Don’t get me wrong, I expect there are deaf people who are happy to communicate via lip reading, that is their choice! But as my previous blog says about “Choices https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/22/choices/” and as Sign Health states – the best thing is to ask how the deaf person wants to communicate and to not make assumptions about their communication needs. Every deaf person is, of course, different and therefore we can expect people who are deaf to have differing communication needs. What’s more, whilst a person who is deaf may be able to lip read one person this does not necessarily mean they will be able to with another person. So many factors such as accent, facial hair all have a part to play in the ease/difficulty of lip reading. As the Scottish Sensory Centre at Edinburgh University have stated – “There is naturally individual variation in the ability to lipread, and as with any skill, competence varies, with level of hearing loss not necessarily predicting ability.” (http://www.ssc.education.ed.ac.uk/courses/deaf/ddec05f.html)

So many words look the same on the mouth from what is actually being said. We know that this is true just by the amount of videos out there at the moment which are dubbed for comedy value  – take a look at this- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjGk_jU6t5A. Whilst this video does have comedy value, it also has a serious undertone about how ambiguous lip reading can be. Whilst there may be some situations where lip reading can be used to ‘get by’ and get the gist of what is being said, I do believe there are other situations such as a GP and hospital appointments where getting by, i.e. receiving 20% -60% of the message isn’t good enough and could have devastating consequences.

Picture sourced from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fauxpress/ Jan McLaughlin

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/

Choices….

Choices“That was quick!” That’s what a deaf person said to me recently after an appointment. They meant no malice, but they were referring to the appointment being quick, approx 20 minutes. Looking back at my blog last week (https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/15/cutting-costs-who-are-we-kidding/), some people might think that an interpreter being present at a 20 minute appointment is pointless. In fact, I did feel that when I went into the assignment, the hearing person was wondering why I was there when there was not much speech to be interpreted. However, isn’t it about ‘having a fair crack of the whip?’ (As my father likes to say).That each person in society has the same choices as everyone else? I always remember at an interview once where the term ‘reasonable adjustment’ was described as – not lowering the standard but making adjustments so that we all have the same opportunity to achieve the desired standard, whether that be in the workplace, education, sport, or anywhere else.

I always enjoy receiving comments about my blogs and one in particular stuck out for me from my last post on cutting costs. It said that despite the cuts in education, health care or whatever service it may be, people who are deaf can still achieve. Just to be clear, I take that as a given. But, most importantly from this week’s blog, I want to make the point that these inequalities are still not fair or acceptable. In a society which has the recent Equality Act 2010 focussing on equality and diversity (positive!) there is still inequality throughout our society.

I believe it is imperative that we all have informed choice. Whether that would be an informed choice to a qualified or trainee interpreter, an informed choice as to which interpreter or note taker, deafblind interpreters, lipspeakers, etc. the person chooses, or informed choice about the information they are receiving.  A basic human right, agreed? Going back to my opening statement about ‘That was quick!’ I believe it was the deaf person’s right to have that information about what was going on in the room, the same as every other hearing person present, regardless of the time it took. With information people then have the knowledge to make choices about their situation and future. It is also their right to have that information interpreted clearly and accurately, thus the importance of having a registered (fully qualified) or regulated (trainee) interpreter so that bits of information aren’t left out or modified to fit the person’s ability to sign the message.

Having the choice of not wanting an interpreter present, I think, is also just as important. Perhaps the deaf person wants to have a family relation with them instead of an interpreter in a hospital appointment. Equally, perhaps they are happy to lip-read and don’t feel the need to book an interpreter. Each to their own! The important thing is a person’s right to have choices. It still baffles me why the powers that be question the cost of an interpreter. I feel the payment of interpreters needs to be factored into organisations’ budgets. Just like other professionals, tasks and equipment are budgeted for. For example, in the NHS shouldn’t an interpreter (for those deaf people that want one) be part of their overall health service from the taxes they pay? Is the health service I receive the same for a deaf person who requires an interpreter to communicate with the doctor but hasn’t been provided with one? Whilst I understand that for small businesses this could be more difficult compared to larger, corporate, companies, this is where the government needs to provide a budget for this. Isn’t this what Access to Work was/is about?  This could be similar to the requirements for most new buildings to contain a lift; all new public buildings and retail shops would require a lift as it would be unreasonable not to install one. Whilst a person in a wheelchair may never use these buildings, they have a choice to use them. Similarly, as a woman, I have a choice to have a baby without the worry that my job will be replaced by someone else.

We are all entitled to a level playing field in life. Whether that is me having a right as a woman to have my pay equal to the male equivalent in the same role at work; or a deaf person’s choice to have an interpreter – whatever the length of time; Or, my right to have the same standard of medical care regardless of how much I earn or I can afford to pay. What people choose to do after that is up to them. Hopefully, registered (fully qualified) and regulated (trainee) interpreters can contribute towards this level playing field.

Image from: © Copyright Andy Waddington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.