There are three different agencies in operation:
1) Those that provide only Registered Interpreters, for any assignment. They have good reputations and on the whole respect interpreters’ pay and terms and conditions.
2) Those that provide anyone that signs and do not distinguish between a registered interpreter and a signer – see many spoken language agencies fulfilling bookings on the cheap for the NHS and other statutory organisations.
3) Those that sell themselves as the first type and have a reputation for being a proper provider of Registered Interpreters but in reality for certain bookings will provide and convince the consumer that someone unregistered is acceptable for that particular booking.
Most often that is for education. This has now crept towards employment for some agencies and in the case of one agency, with a good reputation in the Deaf community, social work and mental health.
Most disappointingly the last type of agency can apply to those who are supposedly BSL specialists and should know what they are doing.
In fact they do know what they are doing but choose not to do the right thing. By either clouding the issue or somehow thinking they know best or purely because they think they can get away with it. Many experienced interpreters boycott agencies because they have bad working practices or provide CSWs/signers. As an industry (or profession) we have standards of registration in place and many interpreters recognise that. They understand the value of quality and potential damage to their own reputation by association with a bad agency. It is much more preferential to be seen as an interpreter of good standing, associated with the best. It makes good business sense.
Reputation used to be everything whether you were an upcoming interpreter or an agency. It is how you sustain your business, your future and your chosen career. For some this does not appear to be a concern. Again whether they are an individual or a company.
Some excuses seem to be:
‘Well it’s not court interpreting.’ No, but it is still interpreting. A very wise man said once that any interpreter being paid out of public funds should be registered. If you want to book a level 2 signer for your wedding knock yourself out. Registration is the only way to make sure you have someone who has been deemed fit to practice. You wouldn’t choose a car mechanic with no training would you? Or worse, a doctor?
‘They are a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) and therefore great.’
We know from research a CODA does not automatically make a great interpreter. Training and experience does. Everyone knows at least one CODA that is an awful interpreter. It’s time we dispelled this myth. Without the correct training and guidance on making ethical decisions those that have not completed are not yet equipped.
‘I have a right to choose.’ Yes, the right to choose from 800 Registered Interpreters and 200 more trainees. There should be a rating system or more ways of Deaf people assessing the quality of the interpreter. Choosing someone who is nice rather than registered does not give any guarantee. It is a given that some Deaf people would be surprised if they could actually hear the voice over of the interpreter sometimes. Choose a ‘nice’ interpreter who fits with your requirements but is also registered. That way you can complain if it all goes wrong.
‘But I’ve known them for years, and they’re fine.’ How do you know? If they are fine they’d be registered by now.
‘That agency is cheap/cheaper.’ There will be a reason for that.
Many interpreters are voting with their feet. Why work for an agency that puts you in vulnerable positions, that bullies you into taking jobs, that tries to force down fees with unfair prices or will potentially ruin your reputation? Is it not better to be seen as an interpreter of standing, of dignity, of quality?
Consumers, why book an interpreter through an agency like that? Just because they say they are a BSL agency or appear to be Deaf or interpreter led (not all is as it seems). Do you get the interpreter you want or are they never available? Do you still get charged extortionate or at least high fees for what is often someone sitting in an office who cuts and pastes your email request and sends it to a list of interpreters? Do you find you don’t always get good customer service?
Deaf people, interpreters, other consumers of interpreters: it’s time to stand up for quality, standards, reputation. There is still a place for agencies in the BSL world and they will not disappear just yet.
Agency standards and the idea of charter marks or an agency register have been discussed. Until something is set up external to the agencies themselves we are left with an unfortunate situation with (some) agencies behaving badly.
Let’s endorse the agencies and interpreting services who create value for the Deaf community (and not with community services they charge for anyway or funds no-one can access) but the ones who are open to feedback, the ones who support Deaf people in making complaints, the ones who have good working relationships with quality interpreters.
Deaf people and interpreters. There is choice out there. Vote with your feet, there is a right direction in which we should all walk.