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Agencies using Unqualified Sign Language Interpreters

Unfortunately, there is a significant shortage of qualified Sign Language Interpreters in the UK and as such, many agencies and deaf services users resort to using unqualified Sign Language Interpreters.

Take for example Devon. A study was completed by an agency in Devon in respect to the ratio of sign language interpreters to deaf service users. The agency estimate that there are over 1,400 deaf service users within the Devon area and only six fully qualified sign language interpreters.

Clearly the ratio of deaf Service users to sign language interpreters is staggering – Over 233 Deaf Service Users to one qualified sign language interpreter.

It is unfortunately the case therefore, that many agencies and deaf service users resort to using unqualified sign language interpreters.

The service given however is rarely a positive experience for the service user and (if resourced via an agency), it is extremely likely that the agency receives complaints and even payment refusal.

Examples of the outcome of agencies / services users using unqualified sign language interpreters are as follows:

  • Service user has to stop the process as the sign language interpreter is unable to cope with either the setting, speed or type of terminology being used
  • The sign language presented by the service user is inaccurately conveyed to the third part by the sign language interpreter and again, vice versa; meaning that the whole process is flawed and that communication is inaccurately conveyed
  •  It is difficult and tiring for the deaf service user to have to try and understand what the sign language interpreter is signing
  • The duration of a meeting is further and needlessly extended due to the additional time taken to accommodate the unqualified sign language interpreter

A series of recommendations have now been made to try and bridge the issues of qualified sign language interpreter availability.

However, for deaf service users or other clients who are based in areas in which there is greater representation of qualified Sign Language Interpreters, then it is essential that only agencies using qualified staff are used.

Always check the recruitment process of the agency in hand. Check and double check that the sign language interpreter being sent to you is fully qualified. If a you book a sign language interpreter and they appear to be inexperienced (and in all likelihood unqualified) on arrival, then ensure that you stop proceedings immediately and contact the agency. Check if they are able to send you an alternative sign language interpreter at short notice.

If any of these events happen to you, then do not be afraid to challenge either the invoice. Ensure also, that you register a formal complaint with the agency in hand.

Agency practices should be transparent and a good agency should take responsibility for occasions in which an assignment fails.