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.

Clarity over CPD: It remains with the register

Any Sign Language Interpreter up to date in the UK will by now be aware that compulsory CPD has been introduced by the registration body, NRCPD and revalidation starts from registration renewal in 2013.

Many interpreters complained when ASLI members voted in compulsory CPD as part of ASLI membership. Many believed it would kickstart the NRCPD into introducing it. They did and ASLI members voted to drop compulsory CPD at the last AGM in September and leave this, rightly, with the registration body. ASLI has better things to be getting on with. ASLI can get back to supporting the members and providing support for interpreters to gain their structured and unstructured hours with quality opportunities at discounted prices. This blog has previously covered how to ensure you are completing CPD in a way that is value for money.

Any interpreter worth their weight not only knows the value of CPD but why we should prove we are doing it. For consumers, the profession as a whole and protecting it eventually. Not only do we have clarity but the trend that can already be seen a month on from the vote is that the number of ASLI members is increasing already.

A Profession with Mutual Responsibilities

Submitted anonymously:

Times have changed. Long gone are the days where interpreters fill up their diaries for four months in advance and are able to cherry pick only the most interesting assignments, filling in the gaps with short community bookings. The NRCPD now boasts over 730 fully qualified sign language interpreters in England; search again including trainees and the number jumps to over 970. Let us not forget that this is a good thing for deaf people! But, a reputation that comes with experience seems to be the only thing that differentiates one RSLI from another at the moment.

Many attribute this increase in numbers to the prevalence of NVQ interpreting courses popping up all over the country, but this mass increase in numbers has not been without its criticisms. One of which is that the rapid rate that courses are churning out RSLI’s has resulted in a lowering of standards within our profession. Combined with this, the economic downturn has led to many organisations seeking out cheaper alternatives and using people who are not only ill equipped skills wise, they are also unconsciously dangerous.

So, what do we do about it?

If you are an experienced interpreter, do you often find yourself using the phrase “back in the day…”? Were they really the golden days, or was the deaf / interpreter community just a lot smaller back then? Allowing you less intimidating access to said community and comfortable learning opportunities. Don’t forget, young deaf people don’t congregate in the local deaf club every other Tuesday in the month as they used to. Young deaf people meet up with friends from school, or those they’ve acquired on Facebook. Language acquisition and personal development is a lot more of a challenge than it used to be. There are many new, proactive trainees who are wanting to do more but are often finding that not only are the doors closed, they have a big ‘no entry’ sign painted on the front.

But, what about the trainees!? I hear you cry. Surely they have a responsibility for their own learning? It’s true. Opportunities are out there but you need to be brave about asking for support and advice; you need to take responsibility for your own learning. Did you think the yellow badge was enough? It’s not. Are you only taking on medical bookings because you’re scared you’ll be judged by other interpreters? Chances are that you are aware of areas that need development, so why not get a mentor? Set up a supervision group with a few other interpreters that you know. Supervision groups can be a surprisingly cost effective way of examining your professional practice in a challenging but non judgemental way.

I’ve heard a few things over the last six months or so that led to this blog:

“There are too many new interpreters coming in and taking our work.”

Ask yourself why. Is it because they’re undercutting? Or, is it because you haven’t undertaken any CPD for a while and it shows? Is it because you’re not very personable and now deaf people have more of a choice? Longevity does not automatically give you the advantage, and nor should it.

“Agencies keep asking me to lower my fees. Is it because I’m new?”

Yes. The fear you have about not getting work causes you to lower and accept a lesser fee. You get the job, once, but then you set a precedent and the agency expects you to keep your fee at that level. If you are accepting £85 for a job in London, then you are accepting roughly 30% less than the industry standard for the area. The agency has not lowered their fee. You are just making them more profit. Why would you voluntarily give an agency 30% of your salary? If you were in house, would you walk over to the HR department and offer the finance lady 30% of your take home pay because they processed the payment for you?

 “Oh, I didn’t know that… I guess it doesn’t really affect me.”

If we are not careful, apathy will destroy the profession that many interpreters and deaf people worked hard to establish. You don’t have to be a part of a professional association, but if you choose not to, how do you engage with the profession and keep up to date with current happenings? There are public interpreting forums, but they often descend into sniping and personal grudge matches, so not only does it leave you feeling like you need to hide because the bully in the playground is throwing their weight about, it can actually be difficult to get your own voice heard.

The thing is, at the moment the issues surrounding fees have put the profession on the road to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are not sticking together and that means attacks from the outside are slipping through the cracks leading to an erosion of standards, a lowering of fees and a constant battle over terms and conditions. If you are an experienced interpreter and you want newer interpreters to stop accepting low fees, which is in turn making it difficult for you to advocate for your worth, do something to help the new interpreters feel worthy about themselves.

ASLI celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. As a new interpreter, I’d really like to look back on this era in another 25 years and say that I was able to attend ASLI’s 50th anniversary conference because I was part of a profession that stood firm and supported its colleagues to make sign language interpreting in the UK a valid and viable profession to be a part of.

“Be excellent to each other…” Bill & Ted said it, so it must be true.

CPD: Avoiding the Expense

In the previous post the importance of CPD was discussed and it was alluded to that they were many other types of CPD not just the high expense, potential low value, sometimes dubious quality training courses. There are of course quality training courses led by experienced trainers who have had years of interpreting experience or for relevant subjects that cover important topics for interpreters and have high value.

It should also be noted that going on a training course about a specific domain such as police work does not automatically mean one is ready to start interpreting at the police station. The level of skill is important and asking for feedback from an experienced peer will give you a better barometer of readiness.

There exists a plethora of inexpensive or alternative ways of collecting and proving your CPD. Most interpreters are aware of these but here follows a small selection:

a) Self-reflective practice – keep a journal on your professional practice. Note down patterns, possible weaknesses or areas for improvement. There used to be a phrase: if you think you’ve stopped learning it’s time to get out. As interpreters we never stop.

b) Study – read some articles on a particular subject and write up what you have learnt. Material never runs out with new research published continuously.

c) Take part in an interpreters’ meetings – either present, attend or, again, write up what you have learnt. This could be an ASLI meeting, peer-to-peer supervision, informal meetings with other interpreters discussing subjects of choice. It is simply about your learning and keeping a record as evidence.

d) Attend a conference – or even deliver a paper or a training course.

e) Attend the Deaf club or a different Deaf event such as a BSL gallery talk, a Healthy Deaf Minds or an Our Space meeting. Or something similar in your area.

f) Volunteer – to do some interpreting, give time to ASLI or the Deaf community for a specific task of interest to you. Campaign work and raising awareness is hot on the agenda with budget cuts affecting everyone.

g) Write – a blogpost, a paper, an article.

h) Mentoring – get a mentor or mentor someone if you are trained to do so.

i) Supervision – slightly different from mentoring in that there is more of a focus on discussion of issues that arise form work.

j) Record yourself interpreting – whether at home or on a live assignment. You can record yourself then watch it back to see if you can pick out anything in particular. After we finish our training we stop doing this as much as we should. Go one step further and do some analysis using some of the tools available such as Cokely’s miscue analysis or use another tool.

k) Use the Internet – to keep up with news, learn new signs, another sign language or brush up on International Sign skills. YouTube is obviously a great resource. There are some existing websites aimed at CPD such as PD4Me and eCPD webinars, some of which may apply to SLIs.

l) Watch someone else interpret – and make notes on your learning. BBC news or Sign Zone can be useful.

m) Learn or research possible different ways of interpreting concepts or phrases. Watching Deaf translators interpret from a script can be insightful and can provide us with more economical ways to interpret a concept or a different way of representing something more visually.

n) Watch or participate in an e-learning seminar which, in comparison to training courses, are often cheaper and sometimes free.

o) BSL coaching – improve your BSL skills by working one-to-one with a coach.

p) Research a new domain and shadow an interpreter working to gain the necessary skills before you start to interpret in the new setting.

There are many more suggestions and the above categories could be infinitely expanded upon.

Some activites can also cover different types of CPD. For example, volunteer to interpret (points), for a talk for which you have to prepare (points), that you can record and use to complete a further analysis (points), and discuss with collegues (points) or use in supervision or mentoring (again, points).

Really the only limit is your imagination so you can steer clear of expensive CPD if you wish. Please leave a comment if you have more ideas to access free or cheaper resources or ways to collect CPD.

The Importance of CPD

CPD has divided the profession, if we are to believe that this was the real reason why an alternative membership organisation was set up.

In reality CPD was voted in by members of ASLI. I voted for it. Erroneously I believe now but only because it took so long for the NRCPD to make it mandatory. Though it was not really a mistake. If ASLI had not have done it first if may have taken many more years.

Why is CPD, as a mandatory requirement of registration, so important?

1) A registration body who has CPD as a requirement is taken much more seriously as upholding the standards of a profession. We would never gain protection of title without it. By that I mean it would be illegal to call yourself and work as an interpreter if you are not a Registered Interpreter. That is the one thing we should be aiming towards. Together.

2) One argument against compulsory CPD is that many interpreters say they do it anyway. Then it is easy. All that needs to be done is record it. Why wouldn’t you want to prove your learning, your commitment to the profession?

3) Another is that it is too expensive. CPD does not just come in the guise of training courses which are often expensive and not always guaranteed to be of good quality. There are plenty of organisations who churn out less than interesting courses with dubious trainers. You can get free or heavily discounted training as an ASLI member too. Another blogpost follows this one which categories some of the many alternatives to expensive CPD.

4) Occasionally one comes across an interpreter who qualified years ago and has done nothing since. They can be hard to work with, it may be hard to even discuss how to work together on an assignment and as result of no learning, they could be out of date, deskilled and unsafe. That, in my opinion, is one of the best reasons for having CPD. Deaf people deserve to have committed professionals of quality, not another category of people making money off the back of the Deaf community.

5) Some interpreters object to the compulsory part, calling it dictatorial and authoritarian. For reasons discussed in point 4, it has to be that way. Some, unfortunately, have to be made to complete any kind of professional development. From another perspective if you are doing it anyway then no-one is forcing you to complete it. You are only being asked to record what you have done and provide evidence.

There were other arguments against CPD when it was being mooted at the time, which are no doubt out of date two years or so down the line. CPD may be relatively new for us and no doubt it will take time to bed in.

For many mandatory CPD is a must and the Institute of Continuing Professional Development sums it up perfectly:

‘Commitment to CPD is also an acknowledgement that becoming professionally qualified is not an end in itself – it is merely the beginning. Updating skills and knowledge on a continuing basis is essential to career progression, particularly given the passing of the ‘job for life’ and rigorously-defined career path cultures.’

For the Sign Language Interpreting profession in the UK, we have seen a paradigm shift, one which was repeatedly asked for and is now being established. CPD is here to stay and rightly so. Most of the profession agree, it is accepted by the majority and it will be the norm soon, if it is not considered to be so already. As always, it unfortunately takes some people longer to accept change.

Post to follow soon: CPD – Avoiding the Expense

Interpreters: Staying in the Profession

In an earlier blogpost discussing Interpreters and Economics and asking if interpreters should Unionise or Unite there were a series of questions listed for consideration. One in particular is worth further discussion here:

What workshops do we need to provide to empower interpreters to run themselves as businesses earning reasonable fees and enabling them to stay in the profession?

There have been some excellent workshops run already but not all interpreters will have been able to access them. It is noticeable that some interpreters who are struggling are good interpreters but perhaps need to learn some new skills in order to stay in the profession. Most interpreters know some or all of this information. The intention is not to teach interpreters to suck eggs but rather assist those that could do with these skills or knowledge or provide some food for thought.

Business skills – an interpreter reliant on agencies in one geographical area for limited settings may find themselves without work with mini-oligopolies created by holders of contracts and the way the contracts have been commissioned. Increased flexibility, marketing, negotiation and setting your correct fee are some of the points discussed below.

Marketing including use of social media and the Internet – Do you have business cards and a website? Are you on directories such as NRCPD and ASLI and other local websites with groups of vetted interpreters? Do you go to events? Do Deaf people know who you are? More jobs are coming up on Twitter and Facebook now as news spreads quick and people need to reach a wider network of interpreters quickly. LinkedIn is vital.

Calculate your correct minimum fee – Write down all of your expenses per year including: professional membership and registration, insurance, conference attendances, training costs, travel (both car and public transport), phone, office, Internet, stationery, postage, other computer expenses, equipment, accommodation and meals, advertising, web hosting, books and journals and accountancy fees. Remember all are tax deductible. Decide what your years of expensive training, hard work and experience amount to as an income and do not sell yourself short. This is your gross income that you need to achieve. Take off those annual expenses. That will be your net income. Divide by 52 weeks and if you want six weeks worth of time off times by 46. Adjust according to preference and remember to account for eight days of bank holidays where you may not be able to or want to earn. That is your average weekly figure that you need to earn. Decide how many days per week you want to work. Remember you need time to do invoices, admin, chase bookings and payments, attend events, keep up with Deaf and interpreting news and complete CPD. Once you have divided your weekly figure by days worked you should be left with your daily charge. Many interpreters charge by full or half days or by a general sessional fee which can be changed according to ease of booking. If you want to check the hourly rate divide your day rate by seven hours to account for lunch. You should then have a clearer idea of what you need to charge in order to earn a decent living wage in accordance with your skills or even to stay in the profession.

Negotiate and have nerves of steel – You are a business. Know your product (that’s you), your value, your unique selling points. Don’t settle for less and do not automatically drop fees without negotiation. Ask what the budget is or set your fee higher so you can reduce it if necessary. Often agencies, especially for last minute bookings, will pay your fee. Remember that some agencies charge a lot to broker your services and do not necessarily drop their fee for clients. Negotiate hard… If an agency has fixed a fee for a job you may still be able to negotiate. Get on the phone.

Know how to protect your business – Factor in rest and leisure time. It’s a harsh economy out there which adds to the difficult situations we may find ourselves in. Avoid trauma, burn out and Upper Limb Disorders.

There are certain traits that a workshop may not be able to teach but are nonetheless important considerations:

Commitment to Deaf and Interpreting communities – Do you do your job and head home? Do you ever go to the Deaf club or Deaf events? Are you up to date with news about the Deaf community? Do you help campaign for Deaf rights or volunteer your time to interpret or otherwise? Research shows Deaf people tend to prefer interpreters who are committed to the community.

Flexibility – Many interpreters are now travelling further to get work if local contracts are being filled with unregistered, unskilled and inexperienced signers. Flexibility is also important in terms of being able to work together with clients. Being able to have a good open working relationship with clients is vital for the happy working life of both of you. Symbiosis is often used to describe the relationship between interpreters and Deaf people. We need each other. We work so much better together when we all remember that.

Being personable – or what we all might term as ‘good attitude’. Napier’s research showed how it was a top priority for Deaf people over and above signing skills.

Networking – Know your colleagues and reciprocate favours. Interpreters are more likely than ever to pass work to each other, to source other interpreters for Deaf people to save everyone the cost of additional fees or a reduction in fees or to cover sickness or double bookings. Knowing the gatekeepers of bookings helps i.e. agency booking staff. It was reported recently that one interpreter put themselves out of work in one area when they had tried to undercut all of the local interpreters. These tactics do not make friends. Obviously networking with potential new clients too, Deaf or hearing. Use social media to expand your contacts: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook amongst others. Register with every reputable agency known to you and work on creating direct contacts with organisations or Deaf people so you can diversify where you work.

Publicise standards – Wherever you go wear your registration badge. Educate consumers about the importance of registration whether this is with the Deaf community or with other people that book us such as doctors, other medical staff, social services, trainers, police and court staff. Unless we are constantly reminding people of why registration is important how are they going to remember?

The strategies above represent a quick run through of how interpreters facing difficult times can empower themselves. It should be said that some regions are more affected than others and it can very much depend on an interpreters’ level of experience as to whether they may be facing difficulties and whether these strategies may even help if your region is particularly bad.

There are excellent workshops that explore the above strategies further and plenty of resources on the Internet for the self-employed as well as services such as Business Link. Many interpreters are finding the current climate hard so remember you are not on your own. When we consider ourselves as stand-alone businesses it becomes a little bit easier to fight your corner.

Making a Profit: A Deaf Wage?

Although we have had a two-tier system of access for the Deaf community since the register of interpreters was started, this is getting worse in our current economic climate.

By two-tier I mean the use of registered interpreters and the continued use of the unregistered signer who has yet to acquire the National Occupational Standards in order to be able to register.

We have seen what are called CSWs (Communication Support Workers) in education for a number of years. Started to plug a gap when interpreters were low in number, they no longer are, the use of the CSWs has spun out of control with many believing they are up to the job of interpreting. Many aren’t.

The term CSW has become a way of trying to give the untrained and often not fluent signer some credence, some recognition for the job of filling the gap and an excuse for service providers to say they have made a reasonable adjustment under British Law.

How did CSWs who were deemed suitable for education in the 1980′s become a stop gap for other areas such as community bookings and employment (funded by the government through its Access to Work scheme)?

Even some agencies who state they only use reigstered interpreters use them in other areas. Two I know use them for office interpreting with Deaf staff and one uses them both for their education service and as employment consultants. Whichever way you couch it the work this personnel is doing is interpreting i.e. translating from Sign Language to English or English to Sign Language. As much as an agency can say it only uses registered interpreters, it does not if it only adheres to those standards for certain areas.

So why does this two-tier system exist? Mainly profit and a few myths in existence which now no longer apply:

There are not enough interpreters… We have more interpreters on the register than ever and some are struggling to find work.

Interpreters are expensive…

a) The truth is that many agencies are expensive with some charging 50% more than the fee an interpreter charges. When you use an agency for your Access to Work interpreting it is your budget that is being eaten away in fees to that middle man.

b) CSWs are cheaper and more flexible. Many are not and charge similar prices to interpreters. Someone told me recently of someone with level 2 earning £40k a year by their own admission. Not bad for a GCSE qualification and someone is paying them. That does not constitue value for money by anyone’s standards.

Using agencies for public service contracts will save money…

Many signers are working at community bookings, mostly at the hands of spoken language agencies (one previous example I
have quoted of a level 3 signer in court was a spoken language agency). Having been successful in winning a contract or even a sub-contract many agencies find their profit margin decreases so they must squeeze the fees of the interpreter. FOI requests show per booking the cost of providing a signer was no cheaper than a registered interpreter. The cost of having to book an interpreter, often to repair the damage a signer did, can be worse. Use a cowboy, you usually then have to spend more to fix it.

In this two-tier market there are agencies and CSWs who continue to make a living out of the Deaf community without care or concern for the potential damage they do or the reduction in choice for the Deaf client.

There has been a phrase that Deaf people have used to denote a living someone makes from the Deaf community by someone that gives nothing back. It has been said that the person is making a ‘Deaf wage’.

Regardless of whether your marketing suggests you give something back, if you or your business make a profit by supporting this two-tier system, I suggest you could be deemed as earning a Deaf wage.

Interpreting by Numbers

Some interesting stats:

1000 Sign Language Interpreters on the NRCPD register (I include Trainee Interpreters who are not registered as such).

400 who could register but don’t, a guesstimate.

250 on the register who are not members of ASLI, the professional Association for Sign Language Interpreters in the UK.

Before I extrapolate, some general comments:

There are other registers. If you are going to comment on this please do so by providing the number of sign language interpreters who are on other registers such as ITI or NRPSI and provide details of how they are accessible for Deaf people to make complaints. It would be genuinely interesting to find out more.

Some people believe ASLI and NRCPD should join together or at least have a joint fee. Many more don’t and rightly so. As interpreters we need a separate registration body and one which we can hold to account.

So why don’t those 400 or so interpreters register? A lack of faith? Too expensive? Or is it that they can still get work without being registered and thereby save themselves the current fee of £165?

I met one such interpreter last year. She stated she worked in two different schools supporting Deaf students with additional ad hoc work. She could be a Trainee for the purposes of the register but couldn’t see the point as her employers were not going to pay for it and she was freelance. As someone who is self-employed you can claim registration fees against your tax. Even if you feel its expensive, registration is still important. It shows respect for the profession and for Deaf people, who will not be able to complain should they receive a sub-standard service.

For every unregistered interpreter who struggles to get work there are many more who successfully work. Why? Unregulated agencies making extra profit by using anyone with a sign language qualification on the presumption they can interpret effectively. A new agency pops up every week and many do not know what they are doing. If you are the client and you’re booking a signer rather than a Registered Interpreter it is unlikely you are getting value for money.

Sometimes it’s a Deaf person using someone for a bit of communication support. I witnessed this, yet again, the other day when a Deaf advocate brought along her CSW (Communication Support Worker) to a meeting at a mental health trust. The booking had overrun by half an hour already and I stated I had to leave soon. The Deaf professional gave permission to use her support and the CSW was happy to do so. Given her level of language and her unregistered status for what was effectively a mental health appointment, this was clearly not appropriate. Many signers also charge only slightly less (some charge more) than an Interpreter so it is less value for money. Why waste public money on a lesser set of skills.

Onto interpreters who are not members of ASLI. There are 250 Registered Interpreters who are not ASLI members to which we can presumably add the majority of the 400 who could register but do not. There are many reasons people have used for not being a member. In these economic times it’s even more important that those 650 people support their profession. Why? There are 20 or so previous posts you could read through.

People state political reasons for not being a member:

1) CPD. The ASLI system has improved dramatically. Most of us complete CPD anyway as we understand the importance and to formally record it on ASLI’s database takes mere minutes. You can access heavily subsidised training via ASLI. There is also a myth that CPD has to be training. CPD comes in many guises including attending ASLI meetings, writing up a feedback session or your thoughts on an article. It needn’t be expensive.

2) Some say they do not know what ASLI does. ASLI volunteers represent members and the profession at meetings with government and recent successes include campaigning for RSLI as standard with the MoJ. ASLI has been present at many meetings with government departments and other organisations that are too numerous to mention. In fact the more members ASLI has, the more capacity it will have to do more representation and work towards protecting the profession.

3) ASLI is a company. Yes. It is a grown up association with a board, annual returns to companies house and a rather large membership. It has an office, staff and is the face of the profession. A face of the profession that has a website full of resources and someone that answers the phone. A face that people take seriously.

Some people state personal reasons:

1) ‘I don’t get any benefit from membership.’ Subsidised (sometimes free) training, regional meetings and communications (Newsli, newsletters and forums) are the three obvious benefits but then if you don’t attend or read any communications you are less likely to understand the benefits. As with most things in life, you get out what you put in. Secondly, the more intangible benefits are representation with government and organisations, having a presence, having an organisation that is there to offer advice to the general public and being part of an organisation that pushes the profession forward. Oh, and there’s also professional indemnity insurance.

2) ‘It’s too expensive.’ My personal view is that it’s great value for money when you understand the true benefits. It’s not just about the personal gain but the wider profession. And, again, you can claim it as a business expense. Even if you are employed.

3) ASLI is elitist. As someone in training I was always welcomed at meetings. Recent meetings I’ve attended have been welcoming and supportive.

In addition to the above I’ve heard some incredibly bizarre reasons and admittedly some reasons which have some credibility. Nothing is perfect. Time move on and the world of interpreting fluctuates. Currently that’s in ways that cause nausea, havoc and fear.

This is the first time in 25 years that our profession faces threat. The way to retaliate is not by blaming interpreters, the Association or the register. It is by working together to collectively come up with some answers, to join in and fight back, to use solidarity and our collective power to change the status quo.

In one way or another there are at least 1,400 of us and that has the potential to be incredibly powerful in these times. Isn’t it time we stuck together?

When we resign ourselves to acceptance, do we desensitise ourselves to what is happening on the ground?

Have Interpreters resigned themselves to accept and even expect that level of access provided to the Deaf community, that they have trained to serve, to be as poor as it is in this current day?

I am not naive to the fact that the situation we find ourselves in today with ‘signers’ turning up to jobs parading themselves as Interpreters is anything new; it has been going on decades. However we are in 2012. We now have over 700 Registered Sign Language Interpreters (RSLIs) on the NRCPD register and many more Trainee (TI) and Junior Trainee Interpreters (JTIs) quickly following in their footsteps. Is it acceptable that at medical appointments people are still forced to accept ‘signers’ or worse still, use their parents, friends, children?

When the first video was published on Facebook from ASLI’s Professional & Consumers Working Group, urging the Deaf community to come forward with their stories of poor access to Healthcare, it did cause a stir in the Deaf community, but it wasn’t enough for people to come forward. It was perhaps that the Deaf community were just ‘used to’ the level of access they were being provided. Probably because in the areas where there is poor service, it is what they have received for years and so this has become expected. People have perhaps become resigned to their fate.

I believe that Interpreters may have resigned themselves to the same fate. We have become so used to hearing all these stories intermittently through our everyday working lives that we have become hardened to them. This may be a form of self-preservation, professional preservation even, but what does it achieve? The ‘signers’ are still out there, still taking on work, still causing upset and mayhem when they are unable to cope with the level of Sign Language or English used; and they are parading themselves as members of our profession. I’m sure we all agree that they are clearly not professional otherwise they would know and understand their limits and not take on such work in the first place.

But what are we doing about it? There are a few who are standing up to defend the profession, a few working on standards and awareness in an effort to prevent such harm, but a handful of 700 is hardly going to make waves. The ripples can only reach so far. If everyone sticks their head in the sand, or carries on thinking all is well because someone else is already fighting the cause, then we are not going to get very far.

We all need to do our bit, wear our NRCPD badges to EVERY job, even those regular bookings in that office we’ve been working in for years. Remind clients of the standard they should be expecting, so the next time they have a medical appointment they know to look out for the badge. It may even be an awareness exercise if someone had no knowledge of registration of Interpreters in the first place and just ‘liked your signing’; the excuse most often heard from ‘signers’ parading themselves as ‘good Interpreters’.

What will it take for the profession to unite and stand up for ourselves? Mistakes happen, they have been occurring for years. Are we not a large enough group of professionals now to make more noise about it and stand up for ourselves, the people we serve and prevent any more of a reduction in access and standards for the Deaf community?

Bibi Lacey-Davidson

Chair of the Professional & Consumers Working Group, ASLI

Using a Professional is the Only Safeguard – Part 2

This blog is part 2 of 2. Following on from part 1, where the term profession was discussed, let’s go back to why interpreting is being outsourced in the first place.

Services are being outsourced to save money. Services that are deemed as being a ‘Back Office Function’.

This phrase is being repeated by the Ministry of Justice, by commissioners nationwide, by Ministers and by David Cameron.

Back Office Function. What is a Back Office function? Logic dictates it is a function that exists back of house probably in an office. This would include administration, IT, facilities management, ordering of equipment say.

Any intelligent being would surely not class interpreting as a Back Office Function. No. Surely it is a specialism. To be done by people who know how to do so. People. Wait… professionals who have been trained and have experience before being let loose in a courtroom.

Interpreting as a Back Office Function? It’s illogical.  Outsourcing is now going way beyond what would normally be termed Back Office Functions.

Strange given the track record of disasters whenever the British government attempt to outsource. Capita got the name Crapita for good reason after disasters such as people nearly getting evicted when systems failed and did not pay out housing benefit claims in time. And bear in mind this is the company that has bought ALS and where the buck currently stops for interpreting services for the MoJ. As one publication has pointed out Capita should stick to back office business functions.

So why is the government taking the risk of outsourcing for areas others than more traditional business functions?

1) Crony capitalism.

This is endemic and epitomised in the coalition government’s support of big business over small or medium enterprises. This is despite what is touted in its reports. None of the framework agreements or procurement hubs now favoured by statutory organisations make it easy for the smaller enterprise to win contracts. Where the small enterprise is the specialist sign language agency, they lose out.

Sign Language interpreting services are becoming sub-contractors to the bigger spoken language agencies. Assignments are regularly being sub-sub-sub-contracted. By the time the interpreter is paid there is little left. Everyone up the food chain needs to make their buck. The result of which, at the other end, is that the statutory organisation comes away with little savings and interpreters travel the breadth of the country when there was a registered interpreter next door to the hospital sat at home unpaid.

2) Back door privatisation.

We have the Conservatives in government. They wish to privatise everything.

3) Ministers and senior civil servants need answers.

Outsourcing is an easy answer to coming up with savings rather than appropriately conducted research and consultation, with the caveat that information gleaned from consultation should be heeded. The word consultation has become a misnomer in the UK. It has come to mean you will speak up then be ignored.

Ministers have often said they lack skills in running large departments. One author suggests this is indicative of an eroded civil service with an overreliance on expensive consultants or specialist advisors rather than looking inward to creating those skills and utilising them.

As Peter Handcock CBE, Chief Executive, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) before the Justice Select Committee said so eloquently:

“So it is partly the process of letting a new contract and putting it in place, but, but we need to do, frankly we need to do much much better understanding the potential risks before we roll these things out.”

An admission of the lack of understanding. Has the government taken any advice on the subject of interpreting services? It seems they have ignored much of what interpreters have been telling them through the various consultations.

Therein lies the explanation of why interpreting is now being seen as a Back Office Function. And what of the effect of this policy, why does it go so horribly wrong, especially where professions are concerned?

Unit costs get ever cheaper in the bidding war for a contract. Unless there are safeguards and standards in place enforced upon the contract provider the temptation is to employ the cheapest personnel and disregard quality.

Sign Language interpreters have seen it happen already in most NHS trusts around the country. Chaos caused by large scale employment of untrained interpreters by sub-standard agencies (usually spoken language ones, though some sign language specialist agencies are also to blame). Yet the NHS and the MoJ are paying for these services.

A colleague did some mystery shopping amongst some new agencies that had won NHS contracts in and around London. Scarily, they wanted to accept her on their books without checking any qualifications, any registration. They did not even ask for insurance or a police check. Some didn’t even care if she actually knew any sign language.

When contracts are awarded to these agencies, the provision of interpreters then becomes tokenism, paying lipservice to the Equality Act 2010. These are specialist services that are commissioned, monitored and evaluated by non-specialists without the necessary in built safeguards, which you would have if professionals were employed. Services commissioned from those that call themselves specialists but are not. Of course outsourcing interpreting services was bound to fail. And fail it has.

The government, local and national, has made a categoric error in outsourcing interpreting services across the public sector. With regard to the MoJ, when this is the kind of service you are paying for you are not saving £18 million. You are losing £300 million.