in interpreting, profession

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.