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