Communication Support Crisis in Scotland

Submitted Anonymously

Much has been said about the national shortage of British Sign Language/English Interpreters compared to countries such as Finland. Over the years, there have been various initiatives to increase their numbers and improve professional regulation. In Scotland, there are around 80 BSL/English interpreters registered with either NRCPD or SASLI, covering approximately 13,000 BSL users.

Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL) estimates that there around 850,000 people with a hearing loss in Scotland. The majority of these communicate using English. They rely upon communication support provided by speech to text reporters (STTRs), electronic or manual notetakers, and lipspeakers.

Collectively, this group is known as Access to Communication in English (ACE) professionals. NRCPD is the only body which holds a register for all of the ACE professions.

So there are lots of registered ACE professionals, aren’t there? In fact, there are only three registered ACE professionals for the whole of Scotland. That is equivalent to one registered electronic notetaker or lipspeaker for every 283,000 D/deaf people.

A further eight are eligible, but not registered with NRCPD. The figures are similar for Northern Ireland and Wales, with only a moderate improvement for England. Deaf English users are unable to access registered communication professionals when and how they need to.

Signature withdrew its entire portfolio of ACE qualifications in 2011. Since then, there has been no training pathway towards NRCPD registration for notetakers or lipspeakers anywhere in the UK.   To compound the problem, NRCPD no longer recognises the old Level 2 lipspeaking or electronic/manual notetaking awards for the purposes of registration. There is a new Signature lipspeaking course due to be launched soon.

For electronic notetaking however, the only formal qualification available is an Open College Network Award. This is run by training centres in London (City Lit) and Manchester. This award has still not been accredited by NRCPD and does not lead to registration status.

Why is registration important?   NRCPD registration ensures that you have met the national occupational standards (NOS). Registrants agree to adhere to a code of conduct and abide by a formal complaints procedure. This protects service users and ensures that confidentiality will be maintained. Registrants must also hold professional indemnity insurance, have undergone criminal records checks and commit to at least 30 hours of continuous professional development each year.

In Scotland, there are no registered verbatim speech to text reporters. Therefore, electronic notetakers provide a non-verbatim communication service. They work in the same domains as BSL/English interpreters. This includes all levels of court, tribunals, police interviews and medical settings.

The Scottish legal system largely recognises the importance of using qualified, registered BSL interpreters. However, this is not the case with electronic notetakers. The emergence of “Remote Respeakers” is set to complicate matters further still.

Remote respeakers use voice recognition technology to produce live captions at meetings and events. Currently there is no recognised respeaker training programme that leads to NRCPD registration.

For BSL interpreters, there is a risk of co-working with unqualified, unregistered electronic notetakers or respeakers. Each of these produce a permanent record of the interpreter’s English interpretation. Most of these people are not registered so if there is any dubiety over what appears in the transcript, then it’s the SLI who is more likely to be sanctioned since only the interpreter will be registered.  Many interpreters do not seem to realise that the Electronic Notetakers are unregistered, or in some cases, unqualified. Increasingly, they are expected to provide a transcript of the discussion not just to clients but event organisers. The transcript might then be shared with a wider audience or even published online.

If a complaint is made to a registration panel about the accuracy of an interpreter’s words in a transcript, only the registered communication professional can be disciplined. How would this affect the interpreter’s insurance cover? This has yet to be tested.

What can be done to address this situation? Deaf people should be able to access communication in their own language. Whenever, and however they need it. If booking an electronic notetaker or lipspeaker, ask if they are qualified. Ask if the communication professional is registered with NRCPD. Ask if they hold any qualifications. And if not, why not.

Why do I need to be a member of a Union as well as a member of a Professional Association?

20140721-122019-44419062.jpgMariella Reina qualified as a BSL interpreter in 2008. She feels strongly about the need for the interpreting profession to always demonstrate integrity, and to be united in pulling together to effect positive change.

Mariella holds the NUBSLI role of joint Equalities Officer (along with colleague Brett Best).

In the other part of life she likes long walks, time with family/friends, listening to Radio 4, films, art exhibitions, attending a tap dance class and dabbling with learning Italian and Spanish.

A Union and a Professional Association support you and your profession in different ways.

The focus of a Professional Association is aimed more generally at offering a supportive environment to its members and maintaining the standards within the BSL interpreting profession:

An example, of this would be:

• To encourage good practice in sign language interpreting.
• To work in collaboration with other organisations within the field, to benefit the profession as a whole.
Professional Associations will work to establish best practice, networking and CPD opportunities, to name but a few. In addition, they often do a lot of work representing members and the profession, meeting and advising external organisations. Your Professional Association is valuable to support you in maintaining and enhancing your practice.

The focus of a Union is that of workers’ rights: safeguarding the profession and individual members from threats to erode fair and appropriate working conditions.

A Union’s key aims are:

• Representing the workers’ interests and protecting their rights (e.g., job security, standards of working conditions, quality of life etc).
• Establishing effective relationships with key influencers including Government.
• Fighting for fairness.

With a good strong membership the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) will provide the opportunity for the BSL interpreting profession to have a powerful collective voice, to be recognised and heard in negotiations. With the backing of legal advice, support and representation from Unite, NUBSLI can campaign and galvanise organised action if necessary.

NUBSLI, your Union, has more strength as a lobbying and negotiating entity. As a branch of Unite, the largest Union in the UK, it has the backing of an organisation with a long history of successfully getting the Government to sit up and pay attention.

The two types of organisation have distinct and valuable areas of focus and different capabilities, so a decision to chose one over the other might jeopardise the sustainability of the BSL interpreting profession. Join NUBSLI today and be part of that collective.

NRCPD Statutory Regulation Survey

The NRCPD have sent out a survey to communication professionals to assess their thoughts on statutory regulation. The deadline is Friday 11th July.

My answers are below. If anyone has any comments please post in response:

1. Do you support the NRCPD aim of statutory regulation? Yes

I support the aim of statutory regulation. I am not convinced the NRCPD are the right body to hold this as it is still not independent from Signature/CACDP and I haven’t been happy with the way UKCoD have dealt with the AtW enquiry and how interpreters have not been involved as much as they should have been.

2. Do you think requiring registrants to agree to a code of conduct is a good thing? No

The Code of Conduct is too prescriptive and does not allow for the breadth of ethical decision making that a BSL interpreter has to practice every day. The Code of Ethics was much better and reflective of other professions. A teological approach to ethics rather than deontological would be much more suited in the case of interpreters. This is a much more up to date way of thinking in the interpreting profession (see Dean and Pollard’s Demand Control schema).

3. Do you think requiring registrants to continue their professional development is a good thing? Yes

I agree with CPD but do not agree with the way that NRCPD have mandated that some hours should be structured but also limited to only courses about interpreting. This has created a market for CPD courses but not increased the value of CPD to practitioners of more than five years post qualification. For example I would like to attend courses on voice production, mime and another language. I believe these would all enhance my work as a practitioner but none of these courses would fit the NRCPD’s criteria. I have completed most of the courses that are on offer in the market and am struggling to find anything that would enhance my professional development.

The rather arbitrary numbers allocated to structured and unstructured do not make sense and were not created in consultation with interpreters.

The more experience one has the more unstructured CPD is completed rather than structured: peer supervision groups, clinical supervision, evaluating ones work, attending or facilitating interpreter meetings, volunteering for interpreter organisations, reading research and articles.

I also do a number of hours of voluntary interpreting which I often record and evaluate.

I would recommend that NRCPD readjust the hours of structured and unstructured or rather put the total amount of hours an interpreter should complete without being prescriptive.

I would recommend that NRCPD allows courses indirectly related to interpreting to be counted as CPD.

I would recommend that NRCPD consult interpreters when reviewing CPD.

4. Are you willing to meet with members of the NRCPD Board to discuss statutory regulation, continuing professional development and the code of conduct’ if the opportunity arises? Yes

Further comments:

The NRCPD should consider asking TSLIs to take an ASLI trained mentor and provide funding to ASLI to provide this. Currently any RSLI can support a TSLI and they would not necessarily have the skills to offer that support.

Before any statutory regulation takes place Signature should be completed independent from NRCPD.

The alternative would be that another body holds the power to regulate.

When representations about interpreters are made to government the NRCPD should be representing the interests of interpreters as well as Deaf people rather than the view of Signature or UKCoD. This represents a direct conflict of interests and independence is paramount

Blog: Why Interpreters have joined Unite the Union

Nicky Evans writes that by having a union we are ensuring that deaf people are able to access fully qualified and suitably skilled professionals.

After the BDA’s hardly publicised report into AtW, one of their case studies lost their job. On a probationary period for six months without access to interpreters due to a lack of AtW funding, this Deaf person lost their job. Everyday interpreters are seeing examples on the ground of Deaf people not able to access interpreters or spending so much time trying to call their allocated AtW Advisor that they can not get on with their work.

The union is not just about interpreters and protecting our pay but ensuring that Deaf people can keep their jobs too. Are you a Deaf person that has been effected by the cuts and can provide evidence that the union can use? Contact them via

Why join a Union? FAQs

As reported in the previous post NUBSLI has launched. The first meeting is Wednesday 25th June at 6.30pm at Unite the Union’s head office in London.

As many BSL interpreters need to join as possible. Here is why you should, and some answers to some queries you may have:

Whether employed or freelance will we actually be stronger in negotiations as a result of being in a union? If only 100 registered interpreters joined NUBSLI that would represent 10% of those on the register. That would mean a high percentage of a profession that are members of a union. This is one of NUBSLI’s stated aims. If the union has that much representation we will be harder for government to ignore.

What do I get out of being in a Union? Uniting with colleagues under a common banner where everyone recognises the importance of their work and being paid appropriately for it. Being a collective voice which is stronger and absolutely necessary in the face of government cuts. Union services also include help with personal injury claims, employment matters, wills, conveyancing and many other legal issues.

Why do we need a Union to negotiate? We have ASLI who does representational work for interpreters at various meetings with relevant parties. With the backing of a Union, we have much more legal and political clout. We actually cannot survive as interpreters without one and it is legally and politically the only way to ensure we can still work.

Does being in a union work? It did for the National Union of Farmers against the likes of Tesco when fighting for a decent price for milk. Unionised workers earn on average 8% more, you can access training opportunities to update your skills and get more job security.

I thought unions were for employees. Is it worth being in a union if you are freelance? It is for London’s black cab drivers. Unite has been helping them fight their cause since 1874. Unite has several taxi branches around the UK. Drivers have faced mass deregulation by parliament via the Law Commission and have used unions to fight against this. Union backing has ensured members have participated in lobby groups, meetings with legal and political representatives such as councillors and MPs and greater liaison with relevant parties such as disability groups.

Do I have to be politically aware or an activist? No. A union has a democratic structure with no hierarchy. Some members will be more politically active than others, a union needs those members for it to work. The more it has the better but not everyone has to be political.

But do I have to strike? Unions get a bad press. No. A strike is a last resort if negotiations fail. There are other options such as lobbying your MP. The media in this country is predominantly right wing and does not support unions. Unions have other roles apart from fighting for worker’s rights such as training,

What cost for a stronger voice and to continue in a career as an interpreter? The rates are £3.06 per week for enhanced rate, £2.91 basic rate, 58p for students, 50p if you are on leave or you work less than 10 hours per week. Even at the enhanced rate that’s only the price of a cup of coffee per week to help safeguard your career.

How do I join? You can join via Unite or at the NUBSLI website. When joining, please mention membership number: 20390369. For every member mentioning that number, Unite will donate £25 to NUBSLI which will contribute towards the running of the union. NUBSLI is a branch of Unite and the branch number is LE/7380L.

Trade Unions: Know your facts from your fiction


Union for Sign Language Interpreters Launched

A union for sign language interpreters was mooted many moons ago under a Chair of ASLI who was interested at the time. It was an unpopular idea with members and many at the time wanted to keep ASLI as the professional Association for BSL interpreters providing mentoring, training and a support network amongst other things.

The political landscape and the interpreting market have changed radically since then. From 2010 outsourcing has increased in scale and has been damaging to interpreters and the Deaf community they serve. This has been the main subject of many posts on this blog.

I’ve been a Unite member since the launch of NUPIT, the National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators. Although many of the issues we face are similar to those of spoken language interpreters, there is enough of a difference in this current climate to have warranted a union specifically for sign language interpreters. And therefore NUBSLI was born, the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters.

External representation is a large bulk of the work that ASLI has done recently given the membership’s concerns about the future of their work. It is frightening not only to experience cuts to terms and conditions but also to see the least experienced, and cheaper interpreters, being employed to do the highest risk jobs. All of which is doubly shocking when you consider the effects to the Deaf community, many of whom are our family and friends.

I have attended frustrating meetings with government as an ASLI representative and I believe we need a stronger voice with the weight of the politically aware behind us: the campaign officers of Unite.

In addition to this ASLI has tried to stay out of the Deaf community’s way in not talking about issues that the Deaf community need to be leading on. When it comes to Access to Work this is a red herring. There have been UKCOD meetings about the AtW changes that have included representatives from the following organisations:

SignHealth, Clarion, Action on Deafness, NDCS, BDA, RAD, BID, AOHL, Sense and NRCPD.

Any interpreter reading that list may note that in the talks about interpreting, of the ten organisations mentioned no less than six have an interest in interpreting as providers of interpreting services. The profits of which will be potentially funding their organisations. One is the register of interpreters, NRCPD. The other three, as Deaf organisations, will be heavy users of interpreters and therefore this is a cost to them.

What I am getting at is that there is no clear voice from interpreters in either UKCoD meetings or meetings with government at ministerial level. It leaves me cold that the future of my profession is being potentially decided by those that perhaps do not fully understand interpreting (the length and cost of training, cost of staying in the profession, day to day challenges, costs of sick/adoption/maternity/carers leave, health and safety concerns) and worse still, have a vested interest in ensuring interpreters are paid less.

The more BSL interpreters that are part of the union the stronger our voice will become. The more Deaf interpreters that are part of the union the stronger our voice will become. The more Deaf people that support the union, the more likely it is that quality interpreter provision will still be accessible after any future AtW changes.

The first NUBSLI meeting is next week on Wednesday 25th June 6.30pm at Unite head office in London. Will you be joining in?

More info about why you should join NUBSLI

Unite the Union

Next post: Why join a Union? FAQs

Independent Review of MoJ Interpreting Services Contract

An independent review is being carried out of the MoJ’s dire interpreting contract with Capita. Hopefully this spells this end of the contract which has supposedly saved millions. If there was ever a full cost benefit analysis, it would show it has wasted much more than the purported savings.

The survey invite has been sent to ASLI, NRCPD, NUPIT and NRPSI as the high-profile organisations who represent interpreters in the UK. It is not clear from the invite if the Association of Lipspeakers or any Deaf professionals working in the justice system have been invited to comment (see letter below for contact details). Anecdotally many Deaf people have told of the decrease of interpreter provision and quality although many experienced court interpreters are still working when they can get the terms and conditions they are used to.

Please do fill out the survey if you have worked in court or experienced the MoJ’s interpreting contract on the ground. We look forward to the results and whether this will change anything.


Dear Madam/Sir,

Matrix, an independent consultancy, has been tasked by the Ministry of Justice to carry out an ‘Independent Review of Quality Assessment within MoJ Language Services Framework’.

This project is a review of the quality of interpretation and translation services provided in the justice sector under the MoJ Language Services Framework. To this end, Matrix seeks to gather evidence of and stakeholder input on the current state of play regarding the quality of interpretation and translation in the justice system, the relevant quality / experience requirements for interpreters / translators and current procedures for monitoring, evaluating and maintaining the quality of interpretation and translation. In this context, we are targeting all interpreters working in the UK justice system.

We would therefore highly appreciate it if you could fill in an online questionnaire, indicating your perceptions and views, by accessing the following link:

Filling in the questionnaire should not take longer than 15 minutes. The survey will be open until Friday, 11th April 2014. All results will be anonymised for the final report.

Thank you very much in advance for your input and time.

In case you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us on

Aurélie Heetman

London | Brussels | Washington DC
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