Who set up NUBSLI? Nicky Evans!

Written by Jen Smith

I got some credit recently at the ASLI 30th conference for some very important work that actually… I didn’t do. So let’s give credit where credit is due and set the record straight.

I didn’t establish NUBSLI. The utterly brilliant Nicky Evans did (see pic!), with support from Wes Mehaffy and a handful of other interpreters who understood the need for a union.

I’ll tell the story of how Nicky came to set up the union but firstly let’s get this out of the way. What did I do when I was part of the ASLI board? I helped run ASLI, in accordance with its aims and objectives as a professional association. That is what you do when you’re duty bound as a Director of an association.

I did some really great pieces of work like save the association £20k on the office contract and supported some working groups and regions alongside budgetary and governance decisions.

The confusion comes as, like other members of Unite the Union, as soon as Nicky Evans set up NUBSLI, I transferred my membership across from the branch of NUPIT (National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators) to the one specifically for BSL/English Interpreters. I’d been a member of NUPIT since 2010 after the shambolic MoJ contract. Four years of Union membership and finally a branch for my specific field!

As a believer and supporter of unions, of collective action and with an understanding of politics I understand how we as interpreters must be political to influence those that effectively pay the majority of our wage. Government staff put in place policies and contracts that can shape the worlds of interpreters and Deaf people, for better or worse. Usually the latter, and there needs to be input from a strong Union, professional associations and organisations such as the BDA. I knew the importance of unions but it wasn’t me that established NUBSLI.

Just prior to my leaving the ASLI board, after three years of hard work, I wanted ASLI to endorse NUBSLI in some way. Or to at least acknowledge the importance of its existence. This wasn’t forthcoming and there was a lot of confusion at the time about the role of unions, why interpreters even needed one and why NUBSLI would do work already being done by a professional association.

Professional associations are much better placed to work on standards, education, supporting members. Collectivism is not something I ever wanted ASLI to do. Just state support for the right organisation to do that: NUBSLI.

There was an ASLI board meeting, decisions about NUBSLI that I’d brought up were categorically made on the basis of facts that weren’t actually true. And I was on holiday. Amongst all of that I left having seen my viewpoint completely misunderstood and had seen Nicky and Wes’s work as Access to Work CoChairs effectively blocked and her being forced to stand down. It was a board I no longer felt part of, one that lacked fundamental understanding with an ethos I disagreed with that had started to pervade every decision.

Sad? Yes. But within weeks I’d attended NUBSLI’s very first meeting and was asked to stick my hand up to be Chair. The first committee was formed and weren’t we a team! To date, it was the most productive, proactive, prolific work I have ever done as part of a committee who learnt quick, worked hard and let nothing get in our way. Nicky Evans, YOU set up NUBSLI and I salute you.

So this is Nicky’s story as I understand it and in my words. The facts have been checked…

As the Access to Work CoChair of ASLI, Nicky, saw the profession being eroded by government decisions that were affecting our work and the service that Deaf people were getting from us. Deaf people’s claims were revoked and slashed. Blanket decisions were made and with no strong Deaf or interpreter input everyone was suffering at the whims of the DWP. Deaf people’s work suffered. StopChanges2AtW brought Deaf and disabled people together to campaign with interpreters, but there was no effective work being done by the interpreting community.

Nicky mentioned these problems to a barrister she was working with as part of the StopChanges2AtW campaign. What you don’t have a union? You better get one.

She mentioned it in passing to a taxi driver. No Union? Best get in one and if you don’t, set one up.

She mentioned it to a political campaign group. No Union? We’ll help you set it up.

Unite the Union it was. Nicky did a lot of leg work, had lots of meetings and got support from the black taxi driver’s union branch (also mostly freelancers) and her political contacts who included inspiring campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

This was all before it got raised at any ASLI forum or meeting. NUBSLI was born out of political need. I just happened to stick my hand in the air and become NUBSLI’s first Chair. I didn’t establish it, Nicky Evans did. Let’s give her the credit she so well deserves.

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BBC: See Hear Interpreting Special

In the face of growing threat to the Sign Language Interpreting profession in the UK and the lack of access Deaf people are experiencing in the light of budget cuts, the BBC’s Deaf community programme, See Hear, has produced a special about Sign Language interpreting. Since 2010 the interpreting profession in the UK has been threatened with changing market forces, BSL agencies being squeezed out of that market and the subsequent loss of expertise. The changes have now filtered through to the rest of the UK with more devastating effects.

The programme features, in no particular order, an interview with me as owner of this blog; Kate Furby, an interpreter based in London; ASLI representatives: National Chair, Sarah Haynes and Working Group Chair, Bibi Lacey-Davidson; Paul Parsons from the NRCPD explaining interpreter registration and the complaints process; interpreting students from Wolverhampton University who are concerned about rising debts and whether they will be able to find work once they graduate; Terry Riley who is Chair of the British Deaf Association and feedback directly from the Deaf community talking about what they require from interpreters and their views on standards of interpreters.

Much of the focus is on a decrease in the standards of interpreters, the effect of one stop shop contracts with spoken language agencies and how community interpreting and Deaf access is in jeopardy by agencies’ use of unregistered, untrained signers.

The programme was first aired on Wednesday 23rd May on BBC2 at 1pm. It is available on the BBC’s iplayer until the 27th June 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01j8chn/See_Hear_Series_32_Episode_8/

If you have any comments about the programme that you would like to share here please leave a comment on this blogpost. The effects of outsourcing have been affecting Deaf people’s access for over two years and interpreters are starting to leave the profession as some can not earn an income. The subsequent affects could make access even less likely. This is certainly an issue we all need to talk about more.

Interpreting by Numbers

Some interesting stats:

1000 Sign Language Interpreters on the NRCPD register (I include Trainee Interpreters who are not registered as such).

400 who could register but don’t, a guesstimate.

250 on the register who are not members of ASLI, the professional Association for Sign Language Interpreters in the UK.

Before I extrapolate, some general comments:

There are other registers. If you are going to comment on this please do so by providing the number of sign language interpreters who are on other registers such as ITI or NRPSI and provide details of how they are accessible for Deaf people to make complaints. It would be genuinely interesting to find out more.

Some people believe ASLI and NRCPD should join together or at least have a joint fee. Many more don’t and rightly so. As interpreters we need a separate registration body and one which we can hold to account.

So why don’t those 400 or so interpreters register? A lack of faith? Too expensive? Or is it that they can still get work without being registered and thereby save themselves the current fee of £165?

I met one such interpreter last year. She stated she worked in two different schools supporting Deaf students with additional ad hoc work. She could be a Trainee for the purposes of the register but couldn’t see the point as her employers were not going to pay for it and she was freelance. As someone who is self-employed you can claim registration fees against your tax. Even if you feel its expensive, registration is still important. It shows respect for the profession and for Deaf people, who will not be able to complain should they receive a sub-standard service.

For every unregistered interpreter who struggles to get work there are many more who successfully work. Why? Unregulated agencies making extra profit by using anyone with a sign language qualification on the presumption they can interpret effectively. A new agency pops up every week and many do not know what they are doing. If you are the client and you’re booking a signer rather than a Registered Interpreter it is unlikely you are getting value for money.

Sometimes it’s a Deaf person using someone for a bit of communication support. I witnessed this, yet again, the other day when a Deaf advocate brought along her CSW (Communication Support Worker) to a meeting at a mental health trust. The booking had overrun by half an hour already and I stated I had to leave soon. The Deaf professional gave permission to use her support and the CSW was happy to do so. Given her level of language and her unregistered status for what was effectively a mental health appointment, this was clearly not appropriate. Many signers also charge only slightly less (some charge more) than an Interpreter so it is less value for money. Why waste public money on a lesser set of skills.

Onto interpreters who are not members of ASLI. There are 250 Registered Interpreters who are not ASLI members to which we can presumably add the majority of the 400 who could register but do not. There are many reasons people have used for not being a member. In these economic times it’s even more important that those 650 people support their profession. Why? There are 20 or so previous posts you could read through.

People state political reasons for not being a member:

1) CPD. The ASLI system has improved dramatically. Most of us complete CPD anyway as we understand the importance and to formally record it on ASLI’s database takes mere minutes. You can access heavily subsidised training via ASLI. There is also a myth that CPD has to be training. CPD comes in many guises including attending ASLI meetings, writing up a feedback session or your thoughts on an article. It needn’t be expensive.

2) Some say they do not know what ASLI does. ASLI volunteers represent members and the profession at meetings with government and recent successes include campaigning for RSLI as standard with the MoJ. ASLI has been present at many meetings with government departments and other organisations that are too numerous to mention. In fact the more members ASLI has, the more capacity it will have to do more representation and work towards protecting the profession.

3) ASLI is a company. Yes. It is a grown up association with a board, annual returns to companies house and a rather large membership. It has an office, staff and is the face of the profession. A face of the profession that has a website full of resources and someone that answers the phone. A face that people take seriously.

Some people state personal reasons:

1) ‘I don’t get any benefit from membership.’ Subsidised (sometimes free) training, regional meetings and communications (Newsli, newsletters and forums) are the three obvious benefits but then if you don’t attend or read any communications you are less likely to understand the benefits. As with most things in life, you get out what you put in. Secondly, the more intangible benefits are representation with government and organisations, having a presence, having an organisation that is there to offer advice to the general public and being part of an organisation that pushes the profession forward. Oh, and there’s also professional indemnity insurance.

2) ‘It’s too expensive.’ My personal view is that it’s great value for money when you understand the true benefits. It’s not just about the personal gain but the wider profession. And, again, you can claim it as a business expense. Even if you are employed.

3) ASLI is elitist. As someone in training I was always welcomed at meetings. Recent meetings I’ve attended have been welcoming and supportive.

In addition to the above I’ve heard some incredibly bizarre reasons and admittedly some reasons which have some credibility. Nothing is perfect. Time move on and the world of interpreting fluctuates. Currently that’s in ways that cause nausea, havoc and fear.

This is the first time in 25 years that our profession faces threat. The way to retaliate is not by blaming interpreters, the Association or the register. It is by working together to collectively come up with some answers, to join in and fight back, to use solidarity and our collective power to change the status quo.

In one way or another there are at least 1,400 of us and that has the potential to be incredibly powerful in these times. Isn’t it time we stuck together?

Survey Launched for BSL Users on Access to Healthcare

Following on from the back of hard work done by ASLI‘s Professional & Consumers Working Group, more organisations have joined in to create a campaign: BSMHD, BDA, Action on Hearing Loss, Sign Health and Signature.

There is a survey for BSL users on their access to health care (deadline 20th April): http://www.surveymonkey.com/BSLHealthcareSurvey

Please do let any Deaf people in the UK know about the survey. Deaf people have felt the effects of the government’s mission to outsource interpreting services over the last few years. Many Deaf people have never had adequate access to health care for years which outsourcing has certainly not helped.

This survey aims to collate the experiences of Deaf people on the ground, those who are really effected by the drive for profit, the deterioration of standards, the loss of work for registered interpreters and ultimately the reduction in access for Deaf people.

Whilst this blog reports on issues generally from an interpreter’s perspective of the effects of outsourcing, what the organisations involved need is hard evidence of what the reality is for Deaf people in the UK trying to access health care. If you have good feedback about your local service please fill out the survey too. In the post code lottery of outsourcing and who your local interpreting contract ends up with, it is more likely you have experienced less than adequate services.

Please fill out the survey today. Have your say and pass it on.