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Voluntarily Giving Away Work

There is a worrying trend at the moment where voluntary interpreting seems to be used to fill the gap that statutory services and their contractors can not, or rather will not, fill.
The requests for voluntary interpreters as seen on e-groups, lists of jobs within the Deaf community and by text or email are most definitely on the rise. And these are just the ones we can see publicly advertised. They now occassionally include assignments which should be covered by the Equality Act 2010 such as job interviews and training courses. This is not the kind of voluntary interpreting that can be done by trainees to get in some practice.
Many more requests are being sent out by Deaf friends and family desperate to have an interpreter at their health appointments. This by far the worst we have ever seen medical interpreting since we moved away from the so-called helper model of interpreting.
If you want further evidence of a lack of interpreters provided in medical settings just see the increase in blogposts on the subject on Limping Chicken, the surge in activity on Twitter and posts on the new BSL Act campaign’s Facebook page.
Many NHS trusts clearly have little budget for interpreting. What has exacerbated the problem is, of course, outsourcing, especially to spoken language agencies. These agencies, who for many years have ignored standards in spoken language interpreting, are now hellbent on ignoring the standards for sign language interpreting.
A prime example is Pearl Linguistics who are winning numerous contracts on cost. Everything about to be said is fact, well-known in the community and any Deaf person or interpreter unfortunate enough to have had their local NHS trust outsource their interpreting services to Pearl will have started nodding their heads solemnly by now.
Pearl usually have a minimum fee payable to interpreters at £30 per hour for a minimum of £60. No travel expenses are paid. For an interpreter this is only feasible if you can squeeze in several jobs per day with little travel and preferably no extortionate hospital car parking. If you’re also paying back your student loan, additional costs of training and being self-employed the offer looks even more insulting. Oh and that’s without paying national insurance and tax on that sum. Really what’s the point?
Many good Registered Interpreters used to being self-employed are able to get work elsewhere, so they do. What happens then? Pearl say, well we will just use someone learning BSL because to get someone is better than nothing isn’t it? Well, no, absolutely not. These are people’s lives. A wrong diagnosis, the wrong treatment, a fatality are waiting to happen. No wait. They already have, except they are only known about by the few or hushed up, families paid off or wishing to keep their lives kept private.
Rather than reschedule or ensure they fulfil the contract with a suitably registered professional, by setting the fees so low they have an in-built excuse to provide level 2 and 3 BSL learners despite what it says in the contract. We know of some agencies willing to provide someone with level 1 BSL, the equivalent of holiday French.
With the NHS not effectively monitoring contracts and absolving themselves of risk by contracting to a third party what happens? Little or no access for Deaf people and some dangerously risky situations. Pearl are just one of many agencies doing the same thing.
Some personal examples: my elderly Aunt did not get an interpreter at her last hospital appointment. My mother who is diabetic was provided with someone who wanted to be an interpreter and begrudged the cost of the training. I am sure she was quite surprised when told she should get on with it and stop working in hospitals in the meantime. I have got some random texts from people who have found my number on the ASLI directory and asked me to go to a medical appointment with them with the offer of payment from their Access to Work funding. I know of a group of interpreters who working voluntarily supported someone Deaf going through a terminal illness. I see the amount of voluntary requests increasing and for work that previously was paid.
Where does this leave us as a profession? In a sticky predicament and, ethically, between a rock and a hard place. Should you, answers not limited to the following:
A) Interpret voluntarily so that access is given regardless and see a return to the days of the helper?
B) Accept the booking funded by Access to Work and go to a medical appointment thereby being complicit in commiting fraud?
Or C) Refuse someone access no matter what the gravity of their situation and do not allow the NHS or any other statutory service to renege their responsibility?
If we do not want the situation to worsen it has to be the final choice backed up by supporting Deaf people in getting access to their appointments.
Make the phone call voluntarily to PALS. Join and support local and natuonal campaigns run by the Deaf community to campaign for access. Write to your local trust and your MP. Support your local ASLI region and find out what’s going on in your area. Be the bicultural bilingual, ally and supporter. Be a good community interpreter. Just whatever you do, don’t ‘help’.

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  1. Similar response to PFye’s comment on the last blog entry – if interpreters don’t do it, the industry has a chance to survive. However, I understand the motivation behind volunteering and support it where it is not letting organisations off their statutory duty.
    Regarding Pearl, a colleague told me they get work from them for their usual t&cs. I gave feedback to Pearl about their poor reputation. They asked me to send me my rates and t&cs. I did. They started to send me job offers. I am yet to see if they would follow through and pay my usual rates.
    Sadly, as was alluded to in the comment I referred to above, if our colleagues continue to devalue themselves and bow to pressure – they devalue the industry – me included. That’s not the way to fight this horrible situation we have found ourselves in.

  2. I am a trainee interpreter (a fact that my GP’s surgery is unaware of- for all they know I could be a trapeze artist!), who happens also to be very pregnant and have a deaf partner. Yesterday I called the surgery to confirm that an interpreter had been booked for my midwifery appointment next week. This will be my first appointment since moving house, and therefore our first opportunity to meet someone from the local midwifery team. My husband and I had already contacted the hospital to request an interpreter, so I wasn’t expecting to have to explain or argue our case for needing one, simply that they would say: “Yes s/he has been booked, his/her name is….., see you there!” The receptionist proceeded to ramble on about how she didn’t think interpreters were normally provided for partners of patients, but she hadn’t come across this situation before, blah, blah, blah, before then very ‘helpfully’ asking “Can’t you just do it yourself?” Strangely(!), when I replied “No, I can’t. Could you please explain to me exactly how I will be able to interpret whilst giving birth?”, she didn’t have a response, disappeared to check with a colleague and then suggested I call someone else!! Sadly lack of awareness (and common sense) seems to be quite prevalent among hospital/GP staff.
    During previous fights with another hospital about our right to access we have had a few people (staff) suggest we use a friend/ family member (many of whom are level 2/3, not RSLI). I have also had a few lovely interpreter colleagues offer to volunteer their time. (I said ‘No!’.) We fought to have the previous hospital trust overturn their decision not to provide interpreters for any of my care, and won. If necessary, we will fight the present hospital for the same thing. Here’s hoping I don’t go into labour in the meantime…! 😉
    On 20 March 2013 14:09, Anonymous Interpreters

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