Matt Dixon: Deaf people’s rights are simply being denied and I want to do something about it

Posted on November 26, 2013

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Matt Dixon

I am on a quest to become a fully qualified BSL interpreter, I don’t even know why! I have a secure job, I am happy in my work, but for some reason I have an uncontrollable urge to become fully qualified.

This year I have enrolled onto the Advance Diploma for BSL interpreting course with SLI limited. I am about 7 months away from being able to say I am fully qualified. Though I am under no illusions that the next few months are going to be extremely hard work, it is costing me a fortune and I cannot afford it. But, I don’t care as I am loving this journey.

I have been trying to understand why I have this urge.

I am the only hearing member of my family and have signed all my life. I spent a long time out of the deaf community in my twenties when marriage, work and starting my own family meant that I had other priorities. Obviously, I stayed in touch with deaf friends and family.

In 2009 I went through an extremely traumatic time having to be my Dads personal interpreter during his fight with Liver Cancer. Even though I was interpreting for him, I had no real ambition to become a qualified interpreter yet it is something I have always dreamed of doing.

It wasn’t until when I joined the Facebook group, ‘Spit the Dummy and Campaign for BSL Act’ that I was asked to get involved with the admin team for the group. God knows they needed the admin staff with over 11000 members.

At first, things tended to flare up very quickly with no real explanation why. Not to mention all the spam posted on the group wall, it was and still is relentless work. After a while I got involved with the campaign side as well, I love it, working with Deaf peers who are extremely passionate about their community. Working with deaf people, campaigning for their rights, which are simply being denied.

Joining the group made me realise I missed being a part of the deaf community and how I felt more comfortable being around deaf people. It might have something to do with my upbringing, some of you may have seen the article that Andy Palmer wrote in relation to the interpreter issues my family experienced while my dad was being treated and the fact he was denied a BSL interpreter.

Prior to my Dad’s passing I had no intention of doing my BSL qualifications, I didn’t need to, I signed with friends and family and occasionally signed for deaf customers whilst at work. Within months of his death I had this sudden urge to become qualified. I enrolled onto NVQ level 3 then level 6 the following year.

When the Facebook group “Spit the dummy” was set up, my sister pestered me to post a video about my experience with Dad while he was being treated at Hospital, so I did just that. I posted a video sharing my experience and the fact that I was forced in to acting as my dad’s interpreter.

The response I got was overwhelming and trust me, knowing what I know now, I would have stamped my feet until the staff sorted out an interpreter.

After seeing my video, Andy contacted me and asked if he could interview me. Even then, I had no real intention of completing the final qualification needed to be an RSLI. Comments were made, some very negative but most were very supportive.

I recall one comment suggesting that CODAs should be sued for acting as interpreters within the medical setting. What a ridiculous thing to say. However, I can see the logic. Sort of.

It would put a stop to children acting as interpreters if one were to get sued. Just imagine the headlines! However, that is just not a realistic thing to say. I think it was comments like this that spurred me on to get qualified, maybe to prove to myself that I do have what it takes to be a professional Sign Language Interpreter, time will tell.

The simple fact is that children are relied on in hospitals but the Police have the Police and Criminal evidence act 1984 (PACE), which stipulates that if an officer is unable to communicate with a deaf detainee, in his or her own language, then they must arrange the services of a qualified interpreter, otherwise they breach PACE. Its a different story in hospitals, it seems.

I had never interpreted for my dad prior to him being diagnosed with Cancer. They didn’t arrange for any interpreters and I most definitely was not going to let my Dad go to appointments without fully understanding what was being said, especially for something so serious. So I do not regret acting in this way because we had no other option, but if I could turn back time and knew his rights like I do now, there is no way I would have done it. I would have arranged for an interpreter myself.

Surely the emphasis should be put on the NHS to provide interpreters or other communication support. All the evidence collected on Spit the dummy and from other sources suggests that there is a shortage of communication support, whether that be RSLI, lip speakers and Speech to Text assistance.

The public sector, especially the NHS, regularly do not follow the correct procedures. Is using family members as interpreters or using people that are not qualified to save a little money? Or, is it just a complete disregard of deaf people’s rights? Or a complete lack of deaf awareness?

Hopefully these issues will be improved once the campaign gathers momentum, but what’s taking so long? It is clearly an issue which members of government are aware of. There is loads of evidence which clearly breaches the Equality Act but yet, nothing has changed. So far! I sincerely hope that all this tireless work that all the organisations have been doing will develop further soon. I don’t agree with this, but I know we have to be patient!

I know from the response via Andy’s article and the evidence collected that I am not the only one, Even Holby City had a CODA acting as an interpreter! Sadly, that is reality and I applaud them for running with such a story. If you are a CODA reading this, or a deaf parent of a hearing CODA, please do not allow these people to get away with using you or your child, no matter how old you or they are.

I know CODAs feel a natural urge to assist. After all it is your family and you have been doing it all your life, but CODA’s have to take responsibility too and fight back in order to help educate these ‘professionals’.

In the meantime, I’ll be off sorting out my professional indemnity insurance, registration and reading about bloody linguistics! But as always I will remain Forever Positive!

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Posted in: Matt Dixon