When we resign ourselves to acceptance, do we desensitise ourselves to what is happening on the ground?

Have Interpreters resigned themselves to accept and even expect that level of access provided to the Deaf community, that they have trained to serve, to be as poor as it is in this current day?
I am not naive to the fact that the situation we find ourselves in today with ‘signers’ turning up to jobs parading themselves as Interpreters is anything new; it has been going on decades. However we are in 2012. We now have over 700 Registered Sign Language Interpreters (RSLIs) on the NRCPD register and many more Trainee (TI) and Junior Trainee Interpreters (JTIs) quickly following in their footsteps. Is it acceptable that at medical appointments people are still forced to accept ‘signers’ or worse still, use their parents, friends, children?
When the first video was published on Facebook from ASLI’s Professional & Consumers Working Group, urging the Deaf community to come forward with their stories of poor access to Healthcare, it did cause a stir in the Deaf community, but it wasn’t enough for people to come forward. It was perhaps that the Deaf community were just ‘used to’ the level of access they were being provided. Probably because in the areas where there is poor service, it is what they have received for years and so this has become expected. People have perhaps become resigned to their fate.
I believe that Interpreters may have resigned themselves to the same fate. We have become so used to hearing all these stories intermittently through our everyday working lives that we have become hardened to them. This may be a form of self-preservation, professional preservation even, but what does it achieve? The ‘signers’ are still out there, still taking on work, still causing upset and mayhem when they are unable to cope with the level of Sign Language or English used; and they are parading themselves as members of our profession. I’m sure we all agree that they are clearly not professional otherwise they would know and understand their limits and not take on such work in the first place.
But what are we doing about it? There are a few who are standing up to defend the profession, a few working on standards and awareness in an effort to prevent such harm, but a handful of 700 is hardly going to make waves. The ripples can only reach so far. If everyone sticks their head in the sand, or carries on thinking all is well because someone else is already fighting the cause, then we are not going to get very far.
We all need to do our bit, wear our NRCPD badges to EVERY job, even those regular bookings in that office we’ve been working in for years. Remind clients of the standard they should be expecting, so the next time they have a medical appointment they know to look out for the badge. It may even be an awareness exercise if someone had no knowledge of registration of Interpreters in the first place and just ‘liked your signing’; the excuse most often heard from ‘signers’ parading themselves as ‘good Interpreters’.
What will it take for the profession to unite and stand up for ourselves? Mistakes happen, they have been occurring for years. Are we not a large enough group of professionals now to make more noise about it and stand up for ourselves, the people we serve and prevent any more of a reduction in access and standards for the Deaf community?
Bibi Lacey-Davidson
Chair of the Professional & Consumers Working Group, ASLI

Media Reports Chaos: Interpreters, Make Your Stand

In a previous post there was a description of the sheer number of spoken language organisations and campaigns and the resulting lack of unity. What is impressive now is the amount of interpreters taking a stand against the MoJ contract, whether individually or as part of these groups. The results of which have now started to filter down to the press with the rightful backlash causing chaos.
The ALS contract rolled out on 30th January. In the last two weeks there has been report after report of mismanagement, cases being delayed, defendants held in custody overnight as there is no interpreter, court staff being harangued by ALS staff, Indian call centres not being able to fulfil requests. That’s a short summary of what has happened and these events have happened repeatedly around the country.
Before each roll out of a contract, whether it was NHS, Police (CPS) or courts, there would be a local press report detailing the horrific expense. The worst of it has been in the national press with the xenophobic Daily Mail amongst others asking why all the foreigners can’t just learn how to speak English?
We’ve seen what the government’s media machine has done to Disabled people, labelling them as benefit scroungers to the point where they have been attacked in the street.
A piece in The Evening Standard pointed out, ‘There is nothing wrong in stopping fraud or imposing cuts at a time of austerity. But it is revolting to see politicians and the media collude to target people who just want to join society.’ The same applies to those who need interpreters whether they are ‘foreigners’ or Deaf. We have an EU directive 2010/64/EU, the UNCRPD and specific to the UK the Equality Act 2010, all of which are being willfully ignored.
Disabled people are less likely to speak out just as users of interpreters can often not speak out, for obvious reasons. The provision of an untrained interpreter is hardly going to help. Would it be so cynical to suggest this is why these groups have been targeted by the government?
So in the case of this MoJ contract, it is left to the interpreters to make the first stand. Congratulations should go to those that have refused to work under the contract over the last few weeks. Lawyers, barristers, magistrates and judges are now seeing the effects. Where we had reports of the expense of interpreters, the media tide has turned. We now have reports of chaos with the Beeb and The Law Gazette picking up the news too.
Furthermore there have been postings on blogs by lawyers and magistrates about their concern.
The MoJ are sticking to the theory that these are just teething problems. They are not and this contract is costing the taxpayer more:
Cost to hold defendant for 24 hours in custody: £769
Average daily cost of a magistrate trial: £800
Average daily cost of a crown court trial: £1,700
(figures from The Daily Mail and The Guardian)
Justice is not cheap. When you introduce delays into the system costs escalate. Rather than paying £85-£150 (half day) for an interpreter so the case can be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible, the actual cost starts to run into the thousands. What exactly is the chaos surrounding this contract?

  • More than half of trained and registered interpreters have refused to work under the contract – most people ‘interpreting’ are not trained or NRPSI registered (in my view*).
  • This has left some regions devoid of an interpreter – the agency is asking interpreters to travel further distances, which without travel costs many are refusing to do so.
  • There are some language groups with no trained interpreters willing to work.
  • Interpreters were asked to undergo a £100 assessment and CRB check – as so few did, the agency is now using ‘interpreters’ – speakers of other languages who have not undergone any interpreter training, have not been independently assessed (as promised) and have had no police checks (as promised).
  • Agency staff have asked exasperated court staff, when a booking is not fulfilled, to enter a cancellation on their systems rather than a failure to provide – this will skew the monitoring information for the MoJ’s review of the contract or any future Freedom of Information requests made.
  • There are reports of basic interpreter errors – ‘perversion of the course of justice’ becoming ‘charge of being a pervert’ and ‘charged by the police’ as owing the police money (BBC).

The above points show that the contract is not only nonsensical but also fundamentally wrong. It goes against legislation, against human rights. It has caused and will continue to cause delays, inefficiencies and extra cost to the taxpayer albeit hidden rather than included in the cost of the interpreting contract. There are huge risks being taken of a mistrial and a lack of access to justice. We have seen two weeks of chaos so far. The Sign Language Interpreting part of the contract is reported to be completely rolled out from March.
If you haven’t been affected yet, you will be. We saw what happened in the North West as a Procurement Hub was set up and later as part of this set up ALS took over interpreting services with police forces. Work disappeared for trained and registered interpreters, including sign language interpreters or was offered at a ridiculous and unsustainable rate. Work was taken up by those untrained and unregistered as the cheaper though unsafe option. Some interpreters had to leave the profession or take on second jobs to survive. One police force eventually terminated their contract with ALS as they could not carry out proper investigations.
As the contract and the chaos continues to roll out will you stand up for your profession? As a Sign language interpreter you may think you have been unaffected. You are wrong.
Reports are already coming out of an erosion of standards (there is evidence of interpreters booked for part trials/tribunals), there is a reduced cancellation fee (from 7 to 3 days) and you will effectively be contributing to the possible demise of the profession especially if you are not experienced in this type of work. SLIs have RSLI as standard. Don’t be fooled. Spoken Language ‘Interpreters’ did not even get assessed, it may only be a matter of time before this standard slips along with the others.
Rather than collude with the providers of this contract, whether you are being sub-contracted or not, like spoken language interpreters we should be sticking together and voting with our feet. If you don’t make this stand, you will see what happened in the North West coming to an area near you…
*added after threat of defamation from ALS, see comment.