What Deaf People Feel Makes an Excellent Language Service Professional

19 January 2021

NRCPD's regulatory work involves ensuring the quality of language services nationally to protect deaf* (Deaf, deaf, deafened, Hard of Hearing and Deafblind) people across the UK from poor practice by NRCPD Registered Language Service Professionals. We have a Code of Conduct in place that all professionals on our registers must abide by, and the Code says how they should act whilst practising. If this Code is breached, you can raise a concern or make a complaint about their professional practice to NRCPD.

Whilst we have a Code of Conduct in place, we felt that it was important to consult with deaf people about what was important to them whilst working with NRCPD Registered Language Service Professionals for their appointments, and what they feel makes an excellent Language Service Professional. As a whole, we have found that service users look for NRCPD registration and familiarity with the Deaf community, as well as someone warm, friendly and reliable who does not sideline or diminish them during appointments. Below are responses and discussions gathered from engaging with the Deaf community on Twitter.

When booking language service professionals, we found that deaf people prefer the professional to be honest with them about what they can and cannot do, such as not having the experience to work in a certain setting due to the jargon for example and to decline the booking, or refer it to another language service professional. It is crucial to do this because if deaf service users find themselves in an appointment with a language service professional who is not able to provide high quality language services in that setting, it then puts the deaf client at risk. When consulting with deaf people about what is important to them when working with language service professionals, a recurring theme was the preparation for assignments, such as checking the jargon and signs in advance if the professional booked is a British Sign Language/English Interpreter.

We have found that deaf people prefer language service professionals to arrive 15 minutes before the appointment begins so that they can become familiar with each other and discuss the assignment. Language service professionals arriving when the appointment begins are too late to prepare with the client and this does little to reassure deaf people that the professional will be competent for the appointment. It is also crucial for the language service professional to find out beforehand how the client prefers to communicate such as through British Sign Language (BSL), or Sign Supported English (SSE) for example, and to ask the client whether they would like to sign or speak their responses.

During appointments, the professional speaking up if they are struggling to follow the conversation due to others talking too fast or over each other for example, is another quality that deaf clients look for. Rebecca Mansell, Director of Communications and Fundraising at SignHealth added that interpreters making it clear that it is the interpreter asking for clarification and not the Deaf client that is asking for clarification, is important to her when working with British Sign Language/English Interpreters in appointments.

The interpreter's ability to adjust to the level of professional jargon being used is also something deaf clients like to see, as well as having the confidence to tell others how to engage with the deaf person, such as looking at them instead of the interpreter. Another deaf person named Michelle prefers British Sign Language/English Interpreters to have BSL skills equivalent to their level of English and added: 'Often interpreters are naturally more comfortable/ knowledgeable in English and unintentionally, British Sign Language becomes the 'inferior' language in the translation dialogue.'

Whilst not a new topic, the subject of clothing was also a recurring theme in our consultations and one deaf person named Victoria mentioned a preference for plain clothing that allows a contrast with skin colour: 'I have had a white interpreter wearing a beige top and also a black interpreter wearing a dark blue top and so it was very difficult to make out hand movements without getting a headache, triggering sensory overload and exhaustion.' She has also found that British Sign Language/English Interpreters having large tattoos visible on their arms and visible jewellery (other than wedding/engagement rings) to be distracting during professional practice.

Other subjects that cropped up involved not referring to the deaf client in the third person whilst interpreting on VRS, not censoring words even if they are deemed inappropriate, and not speaking on the deaf client's behalf, except whilst interpreting.

Are you concerned about the conduct or practice of a NRCPD Registered Language Service professional? You should tell NRCPD and we can confidentially discuss with you what action we can take to improve their practice. You can contact NRCPD via email at: enquiries@nrcpd.org.uk or via VRS in British Sign Language at: https://www.nrcpd.org.uk/vrs

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