Nick Beese: Working with sign language/English interpreters

Posted on March 14, 2017

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My job at Amazon requires me to attend and lead up to five meetings a day. These could be design workshops, stand-up meetings, or phone/video conferences with colleagues from around the world. In my profession, communication skills are crucial — conversations are happening all day long.

I’m a British Sign Language user (I’ve been deaf from birth) and have worked with Sign Language/English interpreters since I went to university. Sign Language/English interpreters are funded by Access to Work, a scheme funded by taxpayers. Access to Work is an employment support programme that helps deaf and disabled people start or stay in employment. It is a well known fact that for every £1.00 spent on Access to Work, £1.48 is recouped by the Treasury.

At work, a Sign Language/English interpreter translates everything that I say in British Sign Language into spoken English, and will translate all spoken English into British Sign Language. No mean feat…!

I have a pool of interpreters working different days of the week. Some have been working with me for several years, others from time to time. I like to meet new interpreters that enjoy the fast-paced and technical nature of the job and add them to my pool, which I try to keep at a healthy size so I don’t find myself short.

Over my 17 year career in design, my relationship with interpreters has always been a work in progress. I am always looking to improve the setup, and make it the best it can possibly be for myself and the interpreter. The better the relationship; the more chance I have of enjoying and progressing in my career.

In the early days I booked an interpreter for a few hours a week, covering certain weekly meetings. When I didn’t have an interpreter; I would just ‘make do’ and miss out on many conversations and impromptu meetings or even just the banter (which is critical to feeling fully included and valued in the team). I soon learnt that to progress in my profession, I would require full time interpreting support.

I now have full time interpreting support and a new development in my working relationship with interpreters is that I give all interpreters who work with me access to a live prep sheet which is saved on my personal Google Drive* space. This document acts as a preparation sheet which has key information about me, my job, names of people I work with and their sign names (which were given as part of a fun sign-naming ceremony that I initiated when I first joined the team).

There is also a glossary of all the jargon that is used at my workplace and some reading material about the industry I work in. In the document there is also a link to a YouTube video of me signing the glossary, so the interpreters will be familiar with how I sign those words.

The benefit of storing and sharing this document on the Cloud means it is always up to date and is within my control. I also encourage interpreters to contribute to this prep sheet so it’s as fresh as it can be; this means interpreters can arrive on the job well prepared.

If you use interpreters, and you think this sort of thing could be of use to you; here’s a template prep sheet (below) which includes sections for you to add information about your role, your company, how you prefer to communicate with certain colleagues, whether you’re ok with interpreters working on their own laptop during downtime, whether you would like them to alert you to and interpret overheard conversations and so on.

Have a look and download the prep sheet (link below) and make it work for you; remove sections you don’t think you need or add new ones. If you are a teacher or student this could include a glossary of all the terms used on your course. If you work in finance, this could be the names and signs for different teams or the currencies that you work with or whatever works for you.

All this is about taking ownership of the relationship with your interpreter and making the best of the support available and therefore making the best of your career. I wish someone had told me 17 years ago about my right to equal access, what that actually means and the finer details so I decided to write this article in case it might be useful for any BSL users out there at any stage of their career.

If you have any suggestions on how the prep sheet could be improved or anything else in relation to the article, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Template Interpreter Prep Sheet (Click to view)

*Alternatives to Google Drive are Microsoft One Drive, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive and the Apple iCloud. All have basic free packages. If Cloud services are not your thing, you could just email the prep sheet.

Nick Beese works for Amazon Video in London. He’s the Design Lead for the new Prime Video website, which has just launched in over 200 countries. He also designed the new LOVEFiLM iOS and Android app. Previously at the BBC he was the Design Lead for the Glastonbury TV app which won a Lovie Gold Award and the iPlayer TV app which won a Connected TV Award; he also worked on the D&AD award-winning London 2012 Olympics Interactive Video Player.

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