A sign language interpreter responds to the Anonymous Interpreter article

Posted on March 2, 2017


The below piece is an anonymous response from a sign language interpreter to a previous article on our site.

Having read the post from an anonymous interpreter titled “I feel it is time for interpreters to focus on the important parts of our job”, I feel compelled to respond.

I think it is fair to say that many of us completely understand your desire to be able to make your own business decisions based on your own circumstances. However, the unfortunate reality is that individual decisions about how we run our businesses have an impact on the wider market-place. This is why, I suspect, colleagues have encouraged you to think about the profession as a whole.

The BSL/English interpreting profession needs to have a future and be a career that will sustain individuals throughout their working lives. It needs to remain an appealing prospect for new trainees if they are to commit to the long and costly training process.

To maintain standards, it needs to be a profession where we are afforded some space in our working week to remain committed to working as reflective practitioners.

It seems appropriate, therefore, that we need to be confident of earning at a professional level, sufficient to allow us to maintain our skills: paying for ongoing training, attendance at conferences, engaging facilitators for peer group supervision, having 1:1 supervision and mentoring, as well as our membership and registration fees.

The way different professions charge is determined to some extent by how the business operates. If you are a psychotherapist, clients come to you; there is no need to cover travel time and costs and so you can charge by the hour.

If you are a barrister you will charge for a court appearance, and that charge will need to include all of your preparation time. BSL/English interpreting sits somewhere in between.

In most cases, the locations and timings of bookings simply do not allow interpreters to fit more than two jobs into a working day (particularly outside of the major cities), and so those two bookings need to pay enough for that day’s work.

The increase of huge worldwide corporations that handle language services has been exponential in the last few years.  Many of these organisations are not interpreting agencies in the traditional sense but corporations, looking to maximise their profits by selling the service we provide – interpreting – as if it were a commodity to be traded at the cheapest price possible.

Such corporations are now responsible for large sections of the market we work within. And so it would seem appropriate to suggest that it is not your colleagues who are dictating your terms, conditions and rates of your business, but rather these agencies as they attempt to drive down the market for their own gain, with little or no consideration for meeting the more detailed, specific and nuanced needs of their clients.

The interpreters who instigated the action to take a stand against what are for them unsustainable terms, are thinking to their and our future; accepting a decrease in rates this year (of 30%) will undoubtedly be followed in future years by further downward pressure. Why wouldn’t it? Without a coordinated response from interpreters as a community and profession, we are vulnerable to these agencies’ strategies to win bids and increase their margins, as we are pitted against each other in bidding lower and lower to get the work they offer.

I am sure that becoming an interpreter was a vocation for many of us. We do a job that we are passionate about and that we know is an essential and worthwhile service. Most of us are committed to working with integrity, spend time reflecting on the quality of our work and expect to be paid fairly for the professional job we do.

When appropriate and possible we will offer pro-bono work, assist Deaf clients to assert their rights and volunteer our time to contribute to our professional organisations in maintaining the standards of BSL/English interpreting. These are all “important parts” of our job.

Overall we need to make sure that the Deaf community continues to have access to good quality interpreting wherever needed. In order to do this, we must operate as successful businesses. And when making our business decisions, we need to be thinking beyond the local and immediate context to consider the impact on our colleagues’ businesses and the sustainability of the profession as a whole.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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