DV: Tell the MoJ what you think of its interpreting contract…

Recently the excellent DeafHope team (Domestic Violence (DV) service supporting Deaf women experiencing or who have experienced DV) published a BSL (British Sign Language) clip asking people to take part in the Home Office (and Ministry of Justice) consultation on Domestic Violence.

As the video points out Deaf people can suffer worse from the journey by a lack of access to services. It may take them more time to be referred to the DeafHope service which is specialist. Deaf women can often be turned away from a refuge due a lack of Deaf access equipment (such as vibrating fire alarms, flashing light doorbells). Booking of interpreters may be refused from services such as police, courts, local DV service, CAB, housing, council services and social servies. Social workers may display a complete lack of Deaf awareness in how Deaf women communicate and relate to their children. This has sometimes also resulted in care proceedings and in the worst cases, children being taken away from parents.

One of the main issues is the MoJ (Ministry of Justice) contract for interpreting, which was the trigger for starting this blog some 6 years ago, and it has been awful. In that time we’ve seen a spoken language agency take the whole contract on and fail miserably. Cases adjourned, quality of service reduced and a reduction in fees (which has exacerbated the first two issues mentioned).

At least in the second generation contract BSL was taken out of the main contract and put in the “non-spoken” languages part although I think the damage has been done and I’ve seen nothing to suggest any improvements. Due to the reduction in fees, court interpreting which should attract the best now (generally) lures in the newly qualified and less experienced. Deaf professionals have reported incidents of seeing appalling interpreting where their clients do not understand the court proceedings.

With relation to DV this can lead to cases being adjourned, leaving Deaf people at a disadvantage waiting for their case to be heard. Perpetrators have benefited from this or have claimed not to understand the interpreter, resulting in getting charges dropped. Deaf women and men should not have to receive a lesser service from the departments that the Home Office and Ministry of Justice oversee, resulting in society level discrimination. We might not be able to wave magic wands but interpreters and Deaf people… (or any friend of Deaf people), have your say and respond to the consultation before 31st May. Scroll down, click on the blue box and if you want to respond in relation to Deaf people only you can click “Supporting victims with specific needs”.

It is an irony that one MoJ contract is affecting vital services for Deaf people experiencing DV and that the Home Office (and MoJ) has initiated this consultation. Tell them so please.

PSA accreditation: It has nothing to do with the medical model

PSAThe NRCPD has sought answers from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) as to whether they could apply as a voluntary register to be accredited. We still have no clear answer but is this really a move towards what some perceive as aligning interpreting to a medical model?
Our history as an emerging profession of Sign Language Interpreters has lead us from the DWEB (Deaf Welfare Examination Board) interpreters to CACDPs first register in the 1980s which mostly consisted of those already working with Deaf people – social workers and Teachers of the Deaf. In the late 1980s funding was sourced and the Citi Services course became the first training course for interpreters. We were moving away from the helper model towards a more professional route into interpreting.
At the same time models of Deafness went from the medical model to social model i.e. there is nothing wrong with the individual that needs to be treated but rather that it is society that causes barriers. Then to a cultural model in which Deaf people have their own culture and language.
If only the government saw Deaf people that way. What we have had since 2010 is an tidal wave of outsourcing of interpreting services which has seen the lowest bidder win contracts across all sectors. This has been especially bad with cash strapped hospitals, mental health trusts and primary care services. Many NRCPD registered interpreters can no longer get any medical bookings now. Many Deaf people are not provided with registered interpreters when attending appointments. The examples of interpreters being used are few and far between. Just see the Our Health in Your Hands work for surveys and, for real life examples, the BSL Act Spit the Dummy campaign. Contract holders often send BSL users to hospitals to interpret who then tell Deaf people they left their yellow badge at home (the NRCPD one).
Outsourcing contracts to providers who are able to get away with not using registered personnel is going back in time and it goes against the government’s health and social care agenda. The only antidote to this is to ensure that all medical services book a NRCPD Registered Interpreter for Deaf people at their appointments. We know the damage it does if they do not. See the RNID’s A Simple Cure report, the TEA report. See the current work by OHIYH. See SignHealth’s long awaited Sick of It report, launching soon.
To ensure only NRCPD Registered Interpreters are used in medical settings is not going back to a time when the medical model is the prevailing paradigm. Sign Language Interpreters will not have to change their behaviour whilst interpreting nor will they be recognised as only being used for appointments. It is merely a step towards providers only being allowed to book Registered Interpreters rather than the situation now where Deaf people sign consent without knowledge of what they sign, struggle to understand how to take medication, their diagnoses, their prognosis and any treatments prescribed.
Whether PSA accreditation will actually get us a step closer to statutory regulation is unknown. Yet. PSA takes responsibility for both overseeing statutory regulators as well as voluntary registers. It requires registers to undertake audits, to make themselves more fit for purpose. The PSA can only improve the NRCPD and strengthen our position in getting ourselves seen as professionals and ensuring Deaf people have appropriate access. At medical appointments.
We will still work in the media, in courts, at police stations, at art galleries, at wedding and funerals, in work places, at conferences and anywhere else that Deaf people are present and want to gain access in a culturally appropriate way, in sign language. Let’s not confuse models of deafness with one of the areas in which we work. Or used to. With some work by the register we may well work in medical settings once more.