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. 

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.

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

Theatre Interpreting – co-working

Theatre Interpreting

It was great to interpret and to be part of Unleashed Theatre Company play ‘Under One Roof’. at Princess Theatre, Torquay, Devon. This was a play based on factual and anecdotal information from the homeless community in Torquay. The aim of the performance was to spread awareness of the increasing number of homeless people in the streets of Devon and Cornwall and to raise money for the Leonard Stocks Centre in Torquay, Devon. Worrying and shocking facts were read out throughout the performance. For example, the fourth biggest increase in homelessness has been in Cornwall!

A similar performance was shown at the Princess Theatre last year, performed by Unleashed Theatre Company where I interpreted the performance solo. However this year, I was lucky enough to co-work with a fellow interpreter, Clare Seal. This was a great opportunity to see what it felt like to co-work on stage. BSL / English interpreters can regularly co-work together on various assignments. However, it is rare to co-work a theatre performance. After speaking with the director of the play, we all agreed it would be an asset to the production. It was great to have a co-worker in the audience to feel supported and able to provide feedback to one another once the play had finished.  Perhaps co-working theatre performances will be a thing of the future?! Watch this space!

 

 

Lone Working

C Hall Interpreting (1280x679)I have noticed recently there is an increase in the awareness and importance of making sure employed (PAYE) staff know how to keep themselves safe when lone working. For staff to learn and to be confident in the processes and procedures of lone working and to ultimately know what to do in an event of an emergency, e.g. a risk to their personal safety. But of course, lone working is a topic not just for those who are employed, but for the self-employed also. One could argue lone working is even more of an issue for self-employed people. It could be argued that of those of us who are self-employed and who regularly work on their own, having robust lone working processes in place is paramount to their safety.

It appears that sometimes there can be a culture of ‘I’ll be alright’ and ‘no need to make a fuss’ towards lone working and personal safety. I too am guilty of thinking like this, the classic mantra of ‘that could/would never happen to me’. However, considering the different places I visit and the distances I travel, it is important someone knows where I am. Whilst I am mindful that my field of work means confidentiality is essential, I do not believe this needs to be compromised in any way. I believe there are ways of informing someone where I am without revealing any information about the client. I know of other interpreters who share their electronic calendar with their partner. Their partner is only able to see the location, time and date (rather than the clients name, reason for booking, etc.). I know other interpreters who text the person they trust to let them know they have arrived at different locations and when they arrive home. ASLI Lone Working guidelines state that “….freelance interpreters should notify suitable team member/family member/buddy: Address of where they are going; Time of visit and expected time of return; Name and phone number of person to be visited”. In particular, the guidance highlights the need to always tell someone where you are going, the route you plan to take and what time you expect to return.

However, I know other colleagues (including myself, up until recently) that have no lone working procedures/protocols in place. To be registered as an interpreter I have to have an up to date DBS check, for reasons of safeguarding others. But what about safeguarding ourselves in the work that we do? The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance ‘Working Alone’ file:///C:/Users/chall/Downloads/indg73.pdf says that training is particularly important for lone workers. Particularly as “Lone workers are unable to ask more experienced colleagues for help, so extra training may be appropriate”. Lone working is not only about someone causing you harm, but also accidents. For example, slips and trips, car accidents in places with no signal, etc. (I understand the concept of having no signal in a bustling city like London seems impossible, but in the rural areas that the interpreters cover – it is very much possible to lose signal, e.g. Dartmoor). If we were the manager of a group of staff then we would have a duty to ensure their health and safety, so if we are our own managers/boss, then why don’t we regard things such as health and safety seriously for ourselves?!

The ASLI lone working guidance also highlights the importance being proactive in making your own pre-assignment enquiries – the importance of asking! I know this too well when I was a trainee sign language interpreter and assumed the other professional would wait for me outside the client’s house before entering. I was wrong to assume this and put myself in danger by entering the clients house without knowing if the other professional was inside already. Now, I know to categorically tell the agency to inform the other professional to wait outside for me and we can enter the property together, or I ask for the other professionals contact details to be able to text each other’s location.

Regardless of whether the risk is high or low, there is still a risk in lone working in the work that we do as interpreters. A simple phone call when you’ve arrived safely to your destination and when you have arrived home shouldn’t be too much of an ask. Let someone know where you are going and what time you are due to be back. These are all such simple steps to ensure personal safety and wellbeing. Look after yourselves!

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:

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