in interpreting, profession

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?

  1. Some believe that interpreters within ASLI, VLP and NRCPD could be collapsed into the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.
    This would therefore, regardless of language modality, support the profession to speak with a single voice. Unity in numbers.

    • Hi Paul, exactly how many people believe that? Perhaps you could provide some statistics or a report as to how many interpreters think that… I’d be interested,

      • Would it matter if it was one person, two or five?
        The author of the original article suggests a number of points, one of them regards a lack of unity. Clearly there are people belonging to different bodies and others that are not, that does not mean to say that they are not doing work to support the profession in their own way. Being regulated, belonging to an association is but one way, there are others.
        I’d suggest that if there’s a need to have a stronger voice, having a single body (regradless of modality) would carry more political weight – of COURSE it doesn’t have to be ITI. But they do have approximately 3000 translators & interpreters.

        • I think numbers do matter for if its only one person who thinks we should join ITI we are not going to get very far.
          Maybe everyone joining ITI would strengthen the profession. Of course ASLI already has close ties.
          There could be other ways though I think these conversations are still to be had. It does not help when separate organisations are set up. We have seen the problems this can cause with splits in the spoken language interpreting community. Sign Language Interpreters are an even smaller bunch.
          In my view, we need to be having conversations without coming from unhelpful polar opposites of I’m right and you’re wrong and this organisation did this or that. I don’t currently see open and healthy debate on the matter which of course in turn does not foster anything approaching unity.

  2. I am a spoken language interpreter, the idea of creating a single body for both spoken and sign language interpreters is attractive but ITI in its present form might not be the best option. It has corporate members, including – until 30th April – Applied Language Solutions. A better alternative would be to have a single body – the Institute of Translators and Interpreters let’s say – with clearly defined remit of representing individual practitioners, rather than agencies. Not only did ITI fail miserably in promoting standards across the industry but it also failed to condemn the behaviour of its corporate member, preferring to concentrate on the framework agreement alone. Unless ITI in its present incarnation does more about its corporate members, I doubt it very much that spoken language interpreters would join it in any great numbers.
    One solution might be that if ASLI decides to join forces with the present ITI, then the remit of the ITI could be changed to that of an organisation for interpreters (and translators) – and help create a strong interpreting division within the ITI.
    I agree that numbers matter. I do not think we can ever achieve unity but we certainly can work together (as sign and spoken language interpreters) towards strenghtening our position.

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