Ensuring safe and qualified interpreting services for Deaf people accessing public services

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2018 National Disabled Members' Conference
6 July 2018

Conference notes that British Sign Language interpreters are regulated by the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind people (NRCPD). They hold registers of interpreters for deafblind people, lipspeakers, notetakers, sign language interpreters, sign language translators and speech to text reporters.

Conference supports a registration system as a way of ensuring interpreters are fully qualified to support Deaf BSL users who may be accessing services including education, health and social care, housing, social security etc. Although increasing numbers of people are now learning BSL, this is not the same as being a trained interpreter which is a skill in its own right. Interpreters who are not qualified may be a danger to our Deaf members, with potential safeguarding issues as a result.

However conference notes with concern that people who sign up to an interpreting course can immediately apply for NRCPD registration as a trainee sign language interpreter (TSLI). Although the NRCPD states that TSLIs may not work in the criminal justice system or mental health settings and must “exercise caution” when accepting work in a social care setting, this still allows them to interpret in certain circumstances. With public services financially stretched there may be a temptation to employ trainees who are not yet properly trained. Conference is concerned that people who may not yet have taken any classes in how to interpret could potentially be called on to offer interpreting services in some settings that could put Deaf service users at risk.

Conference believes that NRCPD trainee status should only given after the student has passed their interpreting course. Full registration could then be awarded after a year of successful practice, similar to a provisional driving license.

Conference therefore calls on the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1. Raise awareness of this problem and identify any examples

2. Work with service groups and regions to encourage UNISON stewards representing Deaf members to ask for proof of full registration from interpreters provided by employers in workplace meetings and procedures

3. Identify and assess the benefits for UNISON of backing any relevant and suitable campaigns on this issue.