The lack of access afforded to Deaf people is shocking. We know that it has got worse since 2009 since outsourcing started in the north west and spread across the UK.
Since the Tories came to power in 2010 (sorry, the Coalition)… welfare cuts have been wide sweeping and have affected the most vulnerable: the bedroom tax, changes to delivery of benefits including PIP, cuts of 50% to local government funding leaving social services crippled, a cash-starved NHS and sanctions which force disabled people (who should not be working) into working for corporate companies whilst on benefits.
What is the actual effect of these changes? 73 disabled people die per week. 73.
All whilst the Tories gave the richest 1% in the country an effective pay rise by slashing the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%.
What is the spin we see in the media? Disabled people are scroungers, tax cuts bring billions into the country. We rarely hear about any of the 73 who die due to these changes. Why aren’t they reported?
And where are Deaf people in all this? They are just the next small group to be targeted by government. A group whose voice is less likely to be heard amongst all the rhetoric. There’s a general election coming whilst people are dying or feeding themselves with visits to a food bank. This does not mean that Deaf people and interpreters should count themselves lucky. It means that we should fight for our jobs, fight for Deaf people to get equal levels of access and we should join in with campaigns. It’s time to start shouting louder and make our voices heard.
Follow Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) for updates on the effects of the cuts and their campaigns against the changes.
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’.