Warning, this post is long but it raises some serious questions around the nature of interpreting, specifically in the UK. I don't even want to be typing this, I've got other things I want to do, and I'm completely irritated that it has to be flagged. Blogging this, simply because people need to get it, an education needs to happen and more importantly open conversational dialogue that is involved.
Before I get to the point I want to mention a situation I once observed at school, just to illustrate why I can't stomach this sort of stuff, and how it all ties in:
Back in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, another deaf kid at school was naughty. I don't even remember what he did, but something within the school grounds. As a way of dealing with it, the Teacher of the Deaf basically said to the deaf child, if, "I will take your hearing aids off as punishment". And they did. This deeply disturbed me at the time, and I've never forgotten it to the point it haunts me. Apart from the arguments around it played on not just an imbalance of power, but on the fact the majority can oppress. The fact that they had enforced the need for hearing aids in the first place (through an oral environment, and no other support), then used a person's basic functions as a bargaining tool. Reminds me of a form of torture.
Moving on. A decade ago I witnessed an interpreter do a similar thing to a Deaf person. Nothing to do with hearing aids, but playing with power. In a nutshell, the interpreter wanted the Deaf person to do something. In the same breath they used a situation they had interpreted, (where the Deaf person as a participant), as a subtle form of blackmail to get the Deaf person to do what they wanted. To the point where the Deaf person complied, as in doing something else was not an option. You do this, otherwise I will tell scenario. It made my blood run cold, I had flashbacks over what had happened at school. It still freaks me out each time I think about it.
I've witnessed exactly the same kind of bullying and threats many in deaf organisations too, where Deaf people are bullied into agreeing to something. I'm not even going to go there, right now.
These experiences are important, in terms of where I'm coming from with what I'm about to say below.
A few weeks back I did an analysis of VeeSee over at Noesis. I did this, as a person really interested in online space and more specifically 'social software' and its application to Deaf people. The post attracted comments, some of which were the run of the mill attacks, which can be ignored and not important in the grand scheme of things. There's interpreting issues in those comments, but these are rather academic or practical in nature, which I'm not going to address in this post.
However, one comment disturbed me:
You are playing with fire Alison .....interpreters know a lot about who they interpret for and your are exposing the deaf community by what you do and what you wish to provoke by your own shortcomings. You are a very very silly young woman in thinking you can do that.
Just the sort of comment to make me stop completely in my tracks and not forget about it.
For the boring record here, I'm imperfect. Big deal. Comes with being human. Also, noone knows me from interpreting, you just see how I interacted in a given situation from your perspective not knowing the full dynamics. The situations were bog standard work ones: team meetings, and interviewing other people. Nothing outrageous happened, and there's nothing to know. However, that's not the point.
This kind of stuff, just as a witnessed that interpreter a decade ago, brings the profession into disrepute, and makes me never to want to use an interpreter again. Except I don't have a lot of choice. Guess what, I'm Deaf and at some point need to interact with people who use spoken English! Yes I do know that there's great interpreters, but that's not the point here.
That comment comes across as something like this: Be careful what you say: as in do what you are told, please me, because I know all about you. If you don't do what I say, then you are stupid. You are a powerless Deaf person, and can't do without interpreters. Remember interpreters control you.
Makes me to the back teeth sick, and down the toilet goes my respect for the profession. It doesn't matter if I'm capable of taking the attitude of along the lines no way are you going to manipulate me in this manner, I'm still freaked.
What happens if for example a Deaf person let an interpreter into a mental health situation, exposed their innermost stuff. Then a few months or years later, they start coming out with the line: remember we know all about you.
Okay. So this terrifies me, but I'm not going to sit back into submission. However, there's more vulnerable people who might not be in a position to fight back, what about them? A bit like alleged abuse that never gets reported, easier to sweep under the carpet. So it happens to someone else.
I wanted to flag this issue up with IRP or ASLI, just to ensure the issue is being addressed.
So I go to the ASLI directory, name not there. I contact ASLI, reply I get: "if a name doesn't appear there, then you can reliably conclude that they are not a member." This was double checked, to ensure there was no gap between joining and the membership pages being updated.
Next stop CACDP directory. Not there. E mail CACDP, just for clarification. I get the reply, "Only people who appear on the Online Directory are registered".
Great. No redress.
Now I have yet more questions in my head than answers. This is why I'm blogging about this, because there's nowhere I can go.
- Is a person allowed to use MRSLI after their name, if they are not on the register? MRSLI - Member of the Register of Sign Language Interpreters. I asked someone at CACDP this, and I'm waiting for a reply.
(Click onto the image to enlarge).
- If someone uses MRSLI and they are not supposed to, what happens? Anyone got any clout?
- Who is policing the letters thing? What happens if no-one has any clout, as above?
- What about retrospective membership, and using a situation at a later date. For example, say if I used an interpreter in 2001, when they were registered, thus thinking I had something to fall back on. By 2007, they have come off the IRP register or not an ASLI member, and for argument's sake, broke confidentiality a few years later. Do the bodies actually have any power to call on a member to be accountable?
- Incidentally, the interpreter in the above situations was never booked by me but my employer and/or my employer's interpreting agency. It brings so many questions into my head around the power Deaf people have over access. You'd get the interpreter you were booked by an agency, and agencies here basically call the shots. There is a kind of mentality that goes on within deaf organisations that Deaf people themselves cannot be experts at interpreting issues, because they don't hold some qualification or other.
- Statutory registration of interpreters, would it be a good thing? Voluntary registration and regulation just by the sector scares the hell out of me right this second.
Right now I see a situation where unregistered interpreters can be booked (as a consumer how much choice do you really have)? Secondly, if someone was registered, then later come off the register, subsequently behaving in whatever manner using knowledge they've attained from assignments (perhaps years ago). Guess what, there appears to be no redress. That's apart from blogging about it.
Update: CACDP said, "People who are not on the register should not be using MRSLI after their name as this would be misrepresentation. If someone is not currently registered it does not necessarily mean that they are not qualified to be an MRSLI (although that could be the case) but they have made a choice not to register so should not be using the title.".
My comments: qualification is not the real issue here, since the core of my comments is redress and accountability, however I asked CACDP for clarification around the use of MRSLI which they gave.
In relation to misrepresentation, this is to be found in the law of contract. The issue here, is that for this to be enforced someone who has entered into a contract, to book the interpreter's services needs to flag it. Will they?
The second point is that a contract is often between the service provider e.g. conference organiser, Employer, even Access to Work and the interpreter. Not with the Deaf person themselves, who would need to bring a separate action against say the service provider. Will service providers actually get the issue, and really be bothered?
There is still a lack of power by a body to police things like this, and relies unorganised individuals to flag such things. For example, if someone calls themselves a solicitor and is not, the Law Society can follow it up, and has the necessary powers to enforce this. However, as far as I can see, noone has any real power here?
Just highlighting the weakness in relation to a potential redress or remedy on offer. Misrepresentation still does not address other issues though, and the scenario above, I fail to see how it could even be subject to contract law, and belongs to professional ethics. Only there's no statutory or case law obligation?