Keeping Deaf People in the Dark

This is bothering me.

I receive dozens of emails every day sent out to lists of interpreters asking if we can cover any or all of a list of assignments. My fees are the NUBSLI Guidance fees and NUBSLI cancellation terms, and I respond quoting these fees.

Quite often the response is "We are sorry, but this is over budget." Then I see the same request for the same assignment sent out over and over again. Today I was asked, on the day of the assignment, if I could still work a job like this that I had offered to cover three weeks ago. I couldn't. Now, this is not about how much I choose to charge, feel free to think what you think about that, but about what 'over-budget' means and what it means for Deaf people's Equality Act rights.

Where a service provider such as a GP Practice's Clinical Commissioning Group, a Hospital Trust, or a private company has an exclusive contract with an interpreting agency the Deaf person immediately has no choice but to accept an interpreter from that agency and under the terms of that contract, and the contract dictates how much that provider will pay for each interpreting job.

The terms of that contract and sometimes even the name of the agency are unknown to the Deaf person, but it is that contract that determines what the provider considers to be a "reasonable adjustment" under the Equality Act 2010. 

The Deaf person does not know that an interpreter has offered to attend and interpret their appointment but been turned away by the agency or by the service provider. Nor do they know how much the interpreter would have charged, and so how much the provider has been unwilling to pay to make that appointment accessible. Sometimes they are told that no interpreter could be found. Often they believe that an interpreter simply failed to turn up.

Without this knowledge the Deaf Community is not able to question these decisions or to assert their Equality Act rights for reasonable adjustment.

After seeing an assignment repeatedly sent out after my terms were considered to be over budget, I once asked that agency if the provider was told of every interpreter offer and I was assured that they were. I do not know if the Deaf person is also told.

In my opinion the Deaf client should be informed of every offer made by interpreters to work assignments that involve them, and what those terms are.

Without this information, the Deaf Community is kept in the dark about decisions made affecting their Equality Act rights, their health, education, well-being, employment, children, and anything where interpretation is negotiated between provider and agency. Without this information Deaf people cannot object to decisions made on their behalf regarding accessibility. Without the ability to object, the Equality Act becomes meaningless.

To my mind, any such contract must stipulate that the Deaf client is kept informed of every offer and negotiation between interpreter and agency/provider. Perhaps they do. I hope so, but doubt it.

What can interpreters do to solve this problem? I don't know. We cannot just post on a Deaf forum any jobs that have been circulated, offered to interpret, and turned down because that leads to huge confidentiality problems. However, Deaf people can ask. 

If you are a Deaf person with an appointment where you expect an interpreter to be booked, ask your local interpreters about it. Say "I have an appointment on this date at this time and in this place. Have you been asked to interpret? Have you been accepted or rejected?" Some regions have websites where you can easily contact all of your local interpreters like these in Devon/Cornwall, Dorset, and London.

I would be happy to tell you and I expect others would too. Then you can complain. Knowledge is power.


Comments are enabled on this post because I am aware that this is a complex issue and would welcome feedback or opinion.

Jim CromwellComment