Sign Safe run by Capita?


imageThis blog has long recorded the effects privatisation on the interpreting industry. We know that one of the so-called big four companies who run the infrastructure of the UK, Capita, has made inroads into the interpreting market after buying out a small company, ALS, and taking on the MoJ contract in 2011, a mere four months after the contract was awarded.

We saw last year a surprise leak about Capita’s shocking charges to the MoJ for interpreting services, only a fraction of which gets paid to its suppliers – the interpreters who fulfil the contract for them.

One of the known problems, that still reoccurs in government contracting, is a reluctance to recognise the already existing registers of interpreters. Both ALS and Capita, believed they could create their own register with little knowledge of the interpreting industry. Their version of a register was little more than a list of names of people who had self-declared they could interpret rather than having qualifications and experience.

Why is this relevant now? The subject needs to be raised of the independence of existing registers/regulators and statutory regulation. NRPSI (National Registers of Public Service Interpreters) went through a tricky time prior to its independence in 2011 from its then owners, the Chartered Institute of Linguists. ALS had paid to subscribe to the register and used these details to falsely inflate the number of interpreters on its books in order to win the MoJ contract. NRPSI is clearly independent now and operates in a different way. What about NRCPD (National Registers of Communication Profesisonals for Deaf and Deafblind People)? It is still tied to Signature A.K.A CACDP who have used all sorts of excuses not to be independent (litigation – insurance covers that and costs – see lack of transparency of accounting practices).

NRCPD, despite admitting they could not pass the standards put in place by the PSA who oversee voluntary registers, is now chasing statutory regulation. This goes against the government’s agenda. One fact sheet states:

“The Government’s view is that high standards for these occupational groups and others can be assured without imposing statutory regulation, with a key role to be played by employers. That is why, in the wider context of supporting providers, we are creating, through the Health and Social Care Act, a system of external quality assurance.” Support Worker Regulation Factsheet, April 2012

Let’s return to another subsidiary of Capita: Capita Gas Registration and Ancillary Services Limited who runs the Gas Safe Register. How has it come to run the register? In 1998, the government passed legislation regarding gas safety: Gas Safety Regulations. The Health and Safety Executive reports CORGI ran the register of accredited gas engineers until 2008 when Capita bid and won the second generation contract to run the register for ten years. Even Wiki states that standards fell when Capita took over and profits meant that candidates now just passed a qualification whereas with CORGI they also had to pass an interview held by an inspector.

This is an example of how you can push through statutory regulation for what people think is the greater good, for public protection, but then your industry lands up in the hands of a private company anyway.

It is an irony that in December 2012 NRCPD decided to name its campaign SignSafe. Or is it?

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Round up…

I’ve barely blogged since the election. The challenges the sign language interpreting profession are facing in the UK are huge. What does this mean if this is happening to a small niche profession such as ours? 

  • The very existence of our profession is under threat.
  • So to other professions who serve the Deaf community e.g lipspeakers.
  • Deaf people are being affected too in every area of life.
  • The challenges we all face fit into the sweeping blanket changes happening to the disabled community whose equality, independence and dignity are being dug away in droves.

What happened? We got a Tory right wing government with no coalition partners to temper them. Forget the 12 MP majority in the House. That didn’t stop them when they put out an Equality Impact Assessment notice announcing Access to Work cuts hours after the election result was announced in May. See the excellent Stop Changes campaign blog for your round up on all things Access to Work related. And make sure you watch the TedX talk by Jenny Sealey for a moving summary of exactly how Deaf and disabled people are being affected by the cuts.

What else? The independent living fund has been scrapped for severely disabled people  despite the high court declaring this illegal. Supposedly funds have been transferred to local councils though a series of freedom of information requests show that many don’t know about it. Two weeks ago we saw DPAC protestors storm the House of Commons which gained great media coverage. Anyone who isn’t sure of exactly what these cuts are going to mean should watch Liz Carr’s speech at the People’s Assembly demo. The government won’t want you to be thinking about incontinence pads and people sitting in their own wee waiting for someone to show up when more budgets cuts are announced on Wednesday 8th July.

NUBSLI has been working hard making representations to various government departments and framework providers who want to see us paid the least amount possible yet still provide a ‘quality service’. This a government who does not believe in professions, independent regulation or quality. Just cost. If it did then the weighting for awarding contracts to private companies would be 100 quality/0 cost or something closer to that than the 40/60 for the first MoJ framework which brought us the disastrous Applied Language Solutions. This allowed a route in for Capita to try and take over a market it has little understanding of and certainly no duty of care to the people receiving the end service. A fact made more obvious since Capita declared at one government stakeholder meeting last year that they could control the interpreting market if given the chance. Not something the Deaf community would ever choose. Or interpreters.

Many frameworks are now being discussed and frighteningly the people that draw them up have no clue. You need professional interpreters in mental health? What do you mean someone with level 3 and no interpreter training will not suffice? We really haven’t moved on.

And on the perpetuation of the myth that CSWs are somehow ok and we’ve all forgotten the work done in the 1990s by the then, more ethical, CACDP… CSW and interpreter apprenticeships are still being discussed, the threat of a CSW register is still around, NDCS (a charity that is supposed to campaign for the best for Deaf children) is part of the ‘BSL coalition’ (along with BDA, Signature and others). Awful misnomer. NDCS advertises funding for BSL language qualifications for CSWs. Maybe a slight admittance there that CSWs are not good enough for Deaf children?  The Deaf children that should be seen as the important future of the Deaf community rather than being let down. The Adept UK machine still rumbles on and no one seems interested in reframing the debate. Why is no one talking about the ideal for Deaf children’s access to education, about what options could be possible then trying to find solutions that are a better than the two tier interpreter/CSW mess we have now. Where are the academics, experts and organisations to come up with something better? This blog aloNe can not address this. It needs a much larger public debate intiated by the very organisations who seem to perpetuate the myth itself.

Of course the existence of this two tier system presents risks in an environment where a new government sees qualified professional interpreters as expensive, unnecessary and replaceable. Since the high profile People’s Assembly demo where NUBSLI interpreters featured all over the media and Deaf people and interpreters stood side by side in protest we have gained strength as a grass roots movement who want the same thing. There are pockets of good work being done by the organisations who serve the Deaf community but they seem mostly absent, too busy  fighting for their own survival amongst the cuts. This is now a grass roots fight for what is right. Deaf people and interpreters: get on board quick. We’ve got work to do and we are all on the Tories’ radar.

Why do I need to be a member of a Union as well as a member of a Professional Association?

20140721-122019-44419062.jpgMariella Reina qualified as a BSL interpreter in 2008. She feels strongly about the need for the interpreting profession to always demonstrate integrity, and to be united in pulling together to effect positive change.

Mariella holds the NUBSLI role of joint Equalities Officer (along with colleague Brett Best).

In the other part of life she likes long walks, time with family/friends, listening to Radio 4, films, art exhibitions, attending a tap dance class and dabbling with learning Italian and Spanish.

A Union and a Professional Association support you and your profession in different ways.

The focus of a Professional Association is aimed more generally at offering a supportive environment to its members and maintaining the standards within the BSL interpreting profession:

An example, of this would be:

• To encourage good practice in sign language interpreting.
• To work in collaboration with other organisations within the field, to benefit the profession as a whole.
Professional Associations will work to establish best practice, networking and CPD opportunities, to name but a few. In addition, they often do a lot of work representing members and the profession, meeting and advising external organisations. Your Professional Association is valuable to support you in maintaining and enhancing your practice.

The focus of a Union is that of workers’ rights: safeguarding the profession and individual members from threats to erode fair and appropriate working conditions.

A Union’s key aims are:

• Representing the workers’ interests and protecting their rights (e.g., job security, standards of working conditions, quality of life etc).
• Establishing effective relationships with key influencers including Government.
• Fighting for fairness.

With a good strong membership the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) will provide the opportunity for the BSL interpreting profession to have a powerful collective voice, to be recognised and heard in negotiations. With the backing of legal advice, support and representation from Unite, NUBSLI can campaign and galvanise organised action if necessary.

NUBSLI, your Union, has more strength as a lobbying and negotiating entity. As a branch of Unite, the largest Union in the UK, it has the backing of an organisation with a long history of successfully getting the Government to sit up and pay attention.

The two types of organisation have distinct and valuable areas of focus and different capabilities, so a decision to chose one over the other might jeopardise the sustainability of the BSL interpreting profession. Join NUBSLI today and be part of that collective.

Clarity over CPD: It remains with the register

Any Sign Language Interpreter up to date in the UK will by now be aware that compulsory CPD has been introduced by the registration body, NRCPD and revalidation starts from registration renewal in 2013.

Many interpreters complained when ASLI members voted in compulsory CPD as part of ASLI membership. Many believed it would kickstart the NRCPD into introducing it. They did and ASLI members voted to drop compulsory CPD at the last AGM in September and leave this, rightly, with the registration body. ASLI has better things to be getting on with. ASLI can get back to supporting the members and providing support for interpreters to gain their structured and unstructured hours with quality opportunities at discounted prices. This blog has previously covered how to ensure you are completing CPD in a way that is value for money.

Any interpreter worth their weight not only knows the value of CPD but why we should prove we are doing it. For consumers, the profession as a whole and protecting it eventually. Not only do we have clarity but the trend that can already be seen a month on from the vote is that the number of ASLI members is increasing already.

A Profession with Mutual Responsibilities

Submitted anonymously:

Times have changed. Long gone are the days where interpreters fill up their diaries for four months in advance and are able to cherry pick only the most interesting assignments, filling in the gaps with short community bookings. The NRCPD now boasts over 730 fully qualified sign language interpreters in England; search again including trainees and the number jumps to over 970. Let us not forget that this is a good thing for deaf people! But, a reputation that comes with experience seems to be the only thing that differentiates one RSLI from another at the moment.

Many attribute this increase in numbers to the prevalence of NVQ interpreting courses popping up all over the country, but this mass increase in numbers has not been without its criticisms. One of which is that the rapid rate that courses are churning out RSLI’s has resulted in a lowering of standards within our profession. Combined with this, the economic downturn has led to many organisations seeking out cheaper alternatives and using people who are not only ill equipped skills wise, they are also unconsciously dangerous.

So, what do we do about it?

If you are an experienced interpreter, do you often find yourself using the phrase “back in the day…”? Were they really the golden days, or was the deaf / interpreter community just a lot smaller back then? Allowing you less intimidating access to said community and comfortable learning opportunities. Don’t forget, young deaf people don’t congregate in the local deaf club every other Tuesday in the month as they used to. Young deaf people meet up with friends from school, or those they’ve acquired on Facebook. Language acquisition and personal development is a lot more of a challenge than it used to be. There are many new, proactive trainees who are wanting to do more but are often finding that not only are the doors closed, they have a big ‘no entry’ sign painted on the front.

But, what about the trainees!? I hear you cry. Surely they have a responsibility for their own learning? It’s true. Opportunities are out there but you need to be brave about asking for support and advice; you need to take responsibility for your own learning. Did you think the yellow badge was enough? It’s not. Are you only taking on medical bookings because you’re scared you’ll be judged by other interpreters? Chances are that you are aware of areas that need development, so why not get a mentor? Set up a supervision group with a few other interpreters that you know. Supervision groups can be a surprisingly cost effective way of examining your professional practice in a challenging but non judgemental way.

I’ve heard a few things over the last six months or so that led to this blog:

“There are too many new interpreters coming in and taking our work.”

Ask yourself why. Is it because they’re undercutting? Or, is it because you haven’t undertaken any CPD for a while and it shows? Is it because you’re not very personable and now deaf people have more of a choice? Longevity does not automatically give you the advantage, and nor should it.

“Agencies keep asking me to lower my fees. Is it because I’m new?”

Yes. The fear you have about not getting work causes you to lower and accept a lesser fee. You get the job, once, but then you set a precedent and the agency expects you to keep your fee at that level. If you are accepting £85 for a job in London, then you are accepting roughly 30% less than the industry standard for the area. The agency has not lowered their fee. You are just making them more profit. Why would you voluntarily give an agency 30% of your salary? If you were in house, would you walk over to the HR department and offer the finance lady 30% of your take home pay because they processed the payment for you?

 “Oh, I didn’t know that… I guess it doesn’t really affect me.”

If we are not careful, apathy will destroy the profession that many interpreters and deaf people worked hard to establish. You don’t have to be a part of a professional association, but if you choose not to, how do you engage with the profession and keep up to date with current happenings? There are public interpreting forums, but they often descend into sniping and personal grudge matches, so not only does it leave you feeling like you need to hide because the bully in the playground is throwing their weight about, it can actually be difficult to get your own voice heard.

The thing is, at the moment the issues surrounding fees have put the profession on the road to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are not sticking together and that means attacks from the outside are slipping through the cracks leading to an erosion of standards, a lowering of fees and a constant battle over terms and conditions. If you are an experienced interpreter and you want newer interpreters to stop accepting low fees, which is in turn making it difficult for you to advocate for your worth, do something to help the new interpreters feel worthy about themselves.

ASLI celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. As a new interpreter, I’d really like to look back on this era in another 25 years and say that I was able to attend ASLI’s 50th anniversary conference because I was part of a profession that stood firm and supported its colleagues to make sign language interpreting in the UK a valid and viable profession to be a part of.

“Be excellent to each other…” Bill & Ted said it, so it must be true.

CPD: Avoiding the Expense

In the previous post the importance of CPD was discussed and it was alluded to that they were many other types of CPD not just the high expense, potential low value, sometimes dubious quality training courses. There are of course quality training courses led by experienced trainers who have had years of interpreting experience or for relevant subjects that cover important topics for interpreters and have high value.

It should also be noted that going on a training course about a specific domain such as police work does not automatically mean one is ready to start interpreting at the police station. The level of skill is important and asking for feedback from an experienced peer will give you a better barometer of readiness.

There exists a plethora of inexpensive or alternative ways of collecting and proving your CPD. Most interpreters are aware of these but here follows a small selection:

a) Self-reflective practice – keep a journal on your professional practice. Note down patterns, possible weaknesses or areas for improvement. There used to be a phrase: if you think you’ve stopped learning it’s time to get out. As interpreters we never stop.

b) Study – read some articles on a particular subject and write up what you have learnt. Material never runs out with new research published continuously.

c) Take part in an interpreters’ meetings – either present, attend or, again, write up what you have learnt. This could be an ASLI meeting, peer-to-peer supervision, informal meetings with other interpreters discussing subjects of choice. It is simply about your learning and keeping a record as evidence.

d) Attend a conference – or even deliver a paper or a training course.

e) Attend the Deaf club or a different Deaf event such as a BSL gallery talk, a Healthy Deaf Minds or an Our Space meeting. Or something similar in your area.

f) Volunteer – to do some interpreting, give time to ASLI or the Deaf community for a specific task of interest to you. Campaign work and raising awareness is hot on the agenda with budget cuts affecting everyone.

g) Write – a blogpost, a paper, an article.

h) Mentoring – get a mentor or mentor someone if you are trained to do so.

i) Supervision – slightly different from mentoring in that there is more of a focus on discussion of issues that arise form work.

j) Record yourself interpreting – whether at home or on a live assignment. You can record yourself then watch it back to see if you can pick out anything in particular. After we finish our training we stop doing this as much as we should. Go one step further and do some analysis using some of the tools available such as Cokely’s miscue analysis or use another tool.

k) Use the Internet – to keep up with news, learn new signs, another sign language or brush up on International Sign skills. YouTube is obviously a great resource. There are some existing websites aimed at CPD such as PD4Me and eCPD webinars, some of which may apply to SLIs.

l) Watch someone else interpret – and make notes on your learning. BBC news or Sign Zone can be useful.

m) Learn or research possible different ways of interpreting concepts or phrases. Watching Deaf translators interpret from a script can be insightful and can provide us with more economical ways to interpret a concept or a different way of representing something more visually.

n) Watch or participate in an e-learning seminar which, in comparison to training courses, are often cheaper and sometimes free.

o) BSL coaching – improve your BSL skills by working one-to-one with a coach.

p) Research a new domain and shadow an interpreter working to gain the necessary skills before you start to interpret in the new setting.

There are many more suggestions and the above categories could be infinitely expanded upon.

Some activites can also cover different types of CPD. For example, volunteer to interpret (points), for a talk for which you have to prepare (points), that you can record and use to complete a further analysis (points), and discuss with collegues (points) or use in supervision or mentoring (again, points).

Really the only limit is your imagination so you can steer clear of expensive CPD if you wish. Please leave a comment if you have more ideas to access free or cheaper resources or ways to collect CPD.

The Importance of CPD

CPD has divided the profession, if we are to believe that this was the real reason why an alternative membership organisation was set up.

In reality CPD was voted in by members of ASLI. I voted for it. Erroneously I believe now but only because it took so long for the NRCPD to make it mandatory. Though it was not really a mistake. If ASLI had not have done it first if may have taken many more years.

Why is CPD, as a mandatory requirement of registration, so important?

1) A registration body who has CPD as a requirement is taken much more seriously as upholding the standards of a profession. We would never gain protection of title without it. By that I mean it would be illegal to call yourself and work as an interpreter if you are not a Registered Interpreter. That is the one thing we should be aiming towards. Together.

2) One argument against compulsory CPD is that many interpreters say they do it anyway. Then it is easy. All that needs to be done is record it. Why wouldn’t you want to prove your learning, your commitment to the profession?

3) Another is that it is too expensive. CPD does not just come in the guise of training courses which are often expensive and not always guaranteed to be of good quality. There are plenty of organisations who churn out less than interesting courses with dubious trainers. You can get free or heavily discounted training as an ASLI member too. Another blogpost follows this one which categories some of the many alternatives to expensive CPD.

4) Occasionally one comes across an interpreter who qualified years ago and has done nothing since. They can be hard to work with, it may be hard to even discuss how to work together on an assignment and as result of no learning, they could be out of date, deskilled and unsafe. That, in my opinion, is one of the best reasons for having CPD. Deaf people deserve to have committed professionals of quality, not another category of people making money off the back of the Deaf community.

5) Some interpreters object to the compulsory part, calling it dictatorial and authoritarian. For reasons discussed in point 4, it has to be that way. Some, unfortunately, have to be made to complete any kind of professional development. From another perspective if you are doing it anyway then no-one is forcing you to complete it. You are only being asked to record what you have done and provide evidence.

There were other arguments against CPD when it was being mooted at the time, which are no doubt out of date two years or so down the line. CPD may be relatively new for us and no doubt it will take time to bed in.

For many mandatory CPD is a must and the Institute of Continuing Professional Development sums it up perfectly:

‘Commitment to CPD is also an acknowledgement that becoming professionally qualified is not an end in itself – it is merely the beginning. Updating skills and knowledge on a continuing basis is essential to career progression, particularly given the passing of the ‘job for life’ and rigorously-defined career path cultures.’

For the Sign Language Interpreting profession in the UK, we have seen a paradigm shift, one which was repeatedly asked for and is now being established. CPD is here to stay and rightly so. Most of the profession agree, it is accepted by the majority and it will be the norm soon, if it is not considered to be so already. As always, it unfortunately takes some people longer to accept change.

Post to follow soon: CPD – Avoiding the Expense