Saturday, 13 August 2016

An Interpreter view: I can't help everyone...

A recent article from a BSL Terp.... the struggle to remain neutral..

"My job as an interpreter is too often telling deaf people they won’t get help We British Sign Language interpreters are under threat from outsourcing and cuts – but our clients still need us

Some people argue that many interpreters are paid to help those who should learn English - but deaf people cannot learn to hear. “I’m really sorry, but we have done all we can.” I slowly pick my hands up to tell the 19-year-old eastern European girl in front of me that she is going to have to wipe her eyes and walk back out of the council offices, homeless, hungry and at risk.

The council officer to my left is wearing the same steely, but resigned look that I have seen on the face of every council officer I meet. I tell the deaf client, in sign language, that the appointment is over and watch her face fall. No matter how many times I do this – and it has been hundreds – it still hurts knowing that I am the person to tell them there is no hope left.

When it is over, I smile at the deaf person, who thanks me profusely for doing my job. She tells me that even though the council couldn’t help her get a flat, at least they provided an interpreter for the meeting – that wouldn’t have happened in her own country.

Despite the heavy heart I carry after these assignments, I love my job. I moved into the role quite unexpectedly after meeting a group of deaf children at an event and, after learning the basics, found that I had a real aptitude for sign language. Ten years later, I was able to qualify and started working on a freelance basis.

I now work across all public services – the NHS, courts, police stations, prison services, counselling, mental health, immigration, mediation and education. As a freelance, I manage my own diary. My next booking, made via an agency, is an antenatal appointment. That’s all the information I have. I don’t know if the client is newly pregnant, if they are having complications or if this is just a routine appointment.

But when I turn up another interpreter is waiting for the same client. We have been double-booked. After some pleasantries, I realise that the other interpreter is not a professional interpreter at all and has only a basic language certificate in BSL, probably enough to talk about what you are having for dinner and where you are going on holiday, but less able to describe the intricate workings of someone’s uterus. I send the other interpreter home and offer to sort it out with the agency later....."

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