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Market Solutions Part 1: Protecting the Profession

There has been much criticism of the outsourcing of interpreting services to private agencies and the problems it causes for the profession on this blog. There have not been many recommendations offered. There will be, over time, a series of blogposts on the solutions we could put in place to counteract negative changes in the market and the subsequent decline in standards in some areas of work.
The most obvious answer to what is happening is to protect the title of interpreter. As a profession of Sign Language Interpreters we seem to bring up this topic every few years but have yet to get to the stage where we can submit an application for a variety of reasons.
Protection of title would mean in order to work legally as an interpreter you must be a Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI). In the same way you can not work as a Social Worker or any number of health professionals unless you are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. You can not work as a Doctor unless you are able to register with the General Medical Council having completed the relevant training. To call yourself an Interpreter without being registered would incur a warning, a fine and a possible prison sentence.
How can we as interpreters apply for legal status and therefore protect the title of interpreter?
There is much work to do in one sense if we consider the financial climate and the unwillingness to use interpreters who have achieved standards in some areas, especially medical. The NHS has outsourced much of its interpreting services with dire consequences for Deaf people in areas where the contracts provide unregistered signers. In some ways we could get there relatively quickly if we pull together.
One way towards protection of title would be to become a Chartered body. This could be done by NRCPD or even, ASLI.
In order to do so an organisation needs to apply to the Privy Council for a Royal Charter. An example of chartered organisations, whose members are protected, are Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Institution of Engineering Designers (IED), Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL).
The steps we need to take and the comments on our progress are below:
(a) the institution concerned should comprise members of a unique profession, and should have as members most of the eligible field for membership, without significant overlap with other bodies.
The NRCPD has the majority of qualified interpreters on the register. More interpreters should become members of ASLI if they wish to work towards becoming protected. Strength in numbers is key.
(b) corporate members of the institution should be qualified to at least first degree level in a relevant discipline;
We can consider this point achieved.
(c) the institution should be financially sound and able to demonstrate a track record of achievement over a number of years;
Whether we are talking about NRCPD or ASLI this is true. Again, there could be more growth and achievement if every interpreter became a member of ASLI.
(d) incorporation by Charter is a form of Government regulation as future amendments to the Charter and by-laws of the body require Privy Council (ie Government) approval. There therefore needs to be a convincing case that it would be in the public interest to regulate the body in this way;
We have all experienced the damage that unregistered and unqualified interpreters can do. It is most definitely within the Deaf community’s interest and the wider public interest in ensuring there are only bona fide interpreters used. For example in the areas of medical, legal and social care where damage can be done to people’s lives or significant costs incurred by the state. Think miscommunication, think misdiagnosis, think mistrials.
(e) the institution is normally expected to be of substantial size (5,000 members or more).
Sign Language Interpreters can not fulfil this criteria at present so we would have to either:
– put the point across that we are a niche profession and apply to be accepted for Royal Charter on the basis of having 1,000 or so either on the register or in training.
– join together with spoken language interpreters in order to bolster our number although any interpreters or membership of an interpreting organisation would still need to adhere to the above criteria.

Another way of protecting the profession through regulation by government is by getting the use of Registered Interpreters into law. It is already a ‘reasonable adjustment’ under the Equality Act 2010 to provide an interpreter. Many organisation are using budgets as a way to renege on their responsibilities and to say it is not a ‘reasonable adjustment’ if they do not have the funds to pay for one. A more guaranteed way is to propose a BSL Bill and incoporate access into the bill as it is in the current BSL Bill being proposed to the Scottish Parliament.
Worth also noting is the current government steer is to ensure all professions in health are protected titles via the HCPC and this extends to anyone who may ‘touch’ the patient. As interpreters we might have to tap the client on the arm to get their attention, we may be doing hands-on interpreting for a Deafblind client or an elderly client may lean on an interpreter or grab their hand for support. For registration we need not only the correct qualifications proving we have reached the National Occupational Standards in Interpreting but also the essentials any professional should have: an enhanced CRB check, professional indemnity insurance, a Code of Conduct and a way for people to complain should you not be providing a good service. Allowing unregistered interpreters to be near the patient exposes them to people who do not have these safeguards. Allowing agencies, via outsourcing, to provide unregistered interpreters means that the government goes against its own agenda, no just for health but in other areas.
Whether we apply for Royal Charter, have interpreting and access as part of a BSL Bill or lobby for specific legislation to cover interpreting legally, government regulation of the Sign Language Interpreting profession fits in with government steer and parts of current legislation. This posting touches the tip of a legal iceberg. With the decline in standards in the provision of interpreting seen over the last two years, the disservice done by the government to Deaf people and the lack of cohesion amongst some groups of interpreters, whichever way we do it, it is about time we put protecting the title of interpreter back on the agenda.

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  1. A very interesting post. However, I would like to address one point that seems to me to be misleading. You write that the members of the Chartered Institute of Linguists are protected. This is not the case. The only people who are protected are Chartered Linguists (Translators) or (Interpreters), not all CIoL members. The Register of Chartered Linguists is currently offline but as far as I can remember there were only about 20 or so Chartered Linguists while there are ca. 5000-6000 CIoL members. One could become Chartered on application and following an interview. The scheme can now be safely said to have failed. It did nothing for raising the status of a hard working translator or interpreter (not sure what linguists do) and as far as I know it is now under review. In my opinion, the CIoL example might be used to argue how NOT to use the chartered status.

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