Deaf people: Are they just too expensive to support ? By Mervyn James


Sara Jae’s re-blog on the issues of unmoderated deaf support is a blog well worth reading.

Although dated a year ago, little has changed, and the issue seems to be still unaddressed and deteriorating..

We suspect (And hope) priorities are still in favour of the deaf child being properly cared for and support monitored, but the adult population is wide open to abuses and still left to own devices..

Indeed in many respects contributing to own abuses by accepting unqualified support. That support can come via own family, or friends, who, acting with best intentions, in reality disempower the deaf because they shift deaf reliance on professional interpreter or trained support, onto them, so family/friends become unofficial carers without qualifications or a wage.

Where their signing knowledge is good with their deaf relative most have no qualifications when the talk gets technical/medical, then the areas become blurred, and familiarity leads to contempt and decision-making going out of the deaf person’s hands.  A number can rapidly become out of their depth and leave the deaf person to manage alone.

Maybe the support does not have enough communication as per a terp would, and certainly no neutrality, then it can become a real risk to a deaf person’s health and well-being.  Deaf seem determined to oppose any ban on family help even those with no signing qualifications… so accept that risk, this can undermine any attempt to monitor support properly, or establish an adequate care system.  Of course set bad examples for younger deaf to follow.

There is a huge rise in ‘Mentors’ (Nobody know what qualifications they are supposed to have other than they sign), and ‘carers’ (With few communication qualifications), and CSW’s and others who are under little monitoring at all, as regards to standards of care or help. How do you monitor, when no norm has been established ?

The basic CSW qualifications seem rather thin. There are examples of BSL Interpreters who go over and above their remit to help the deaf client. In effect acting as a bona-fide social worker in some respects and as a real  friend. This is wrong of course, in a professional sense, and in the sense it compromises the neutral nature of signed support.

Then, BSL Interpreters are in  breach of their professional standard, and become vulnerable to claims they are doing that to maintain steady work for themselves by allowing that reliance. It’s already well-known in deaf areas, many deaf have a ‘preference’ for a particular interpreter as a result.

The issue, is who monitors to ensure support for deaf people is maintaining integrity, or neutrality ?  ATR has covered a number of areas of deaf mentoring where abuses happened to the deaf client and no monitoring of standards was apparent. With local authorities or Social Services ‘rubber-stamping’ second-hand support, no way to complain either. These areas may well be legally obliged to provide support, but , THEY choose who that is. Some may oblige by providing who you want, others may just say they have met the letter of the law and take it or leave it. If no availability isn’t there you can’t insist. Interpreters are busy and scarce people.

Also, the Sign language bodies dither over monitoring, because they say many BSL interpreters are not members of their agencies or bodies, more in fact are completely free-lance and operate as they want to a great extent. Also the best they can do is stop an errant terp quoting them.  The BSL tuition system is a case in point, where few standards are really maintained. LEA classes are very questionable, and the ‘anything goes’ approach left to the unmonitored tutors leaves a lot to be desired. Some deaf ‘cultural centres’ were accused of such bias, and some did not belong TO the deaf community and were BSL for cash areas.

Charities also came in for considerable criticism as they tried to plug the leaking support gaps for deaf, by lowering own standards of care qualifications, and of communication. Social Services via Local Authorities are being seen to  ‘shop around’ for the cheapest care they can find with the basics of qualifications, and care is applied on a  strict time-limiting basis. 2 Local Authorities approached a class for BSL learners offering learners the job, because the approved BSL Interpreter system of trained professionals was ‘too expensive.’ This included work in legal, banking,  and medical situations, highly skilled interpreting and sensitive areas.

E.G. Today a care worker attended a client in Wales to find an 92 yr old client collapsed on the floor.  She contacted emergency services, and asked her agency if she could forgo a visit to the next client, as they can only offer care on a 15 minute visit basis, (Or someone else could attend in her place), so she could wait until medical help arrived and monitor the client till they arrive. She was told NO, she had to leave that unconscious client on the floor and go to the next allotted client or face losing her job.  So she left the client unconscious on the floor and the front door open for the emergency services.

The problem with deaf care (Let’s call it what it is, as it isn’t empowerment since empowerment suggests choice), is the fact standards are almost low or non-extant in many cases because the cost of professional support to the deaf is too high. This leaves the doors wide open to staff who really do not know what they are doing most of the time, or understand what a deaf client is saying. It’s caused deaths in Wales to older deaf people. Still none of the deaf or associated charities will demand higher standards, from themselves, or, from others on the deaf behalf.

Mostly they won’t demand these standards because they supply the staff, and if more professional qualifications are demanded, they cannot supply that need. Meanwhile deaf are being sold out and left in the hands of people who don’t have the wherewithal to help them.  IN part this tends to demoralise deaf who feel why bother to ask for help at all? The system seems to work on the basis ‘Anyone with ears can support the deaf..’

God help them.  Is deaf support just too expensive to be practical? certainly state welfare agencies now think so… and won’t fund it any more by cutting off the financial means to buy it in.  In order to address what is going on, a ban on private agencies/charities and care has to be invoked at least until a set of care norms and the means to monitor them exists.”

By Mervyn James, who can also be found ‘At the rim’


Good With Your Hands?

A fellow Tree House dweller shared a video excerpt from an Australian film, “The Little Death”. As quoted from a review “involving a hearing-impaired video translator who makes a sex call for a deaf client, is another highlight. There’s sweetness within the smut and that’s not an easy achievement, especially when the director almost kills his own climax (so to speak) with a very cheesy song.”

This also raised a question if all adverts / excerpts from films and so on are based on real life experiences, more importantly, whether it is a topic that needs to be discussed and not seen as a taboo for it can be potentially educational. While said video relates to deaf issues, the title alone is enough warning for anyone who may not wish to view such content and can then, make a conscious choice whether to watch or not – as an adult.  

A very interesting albeit humorous thread then followed… with experiences being shared and a gap in the interpreting market being made obvious so anyone good with their hands and confident enough to do as Daryl Jackson did whilst interpreting a dialogue from the programme, “The Inbetweeners”, should perhaps seize the day?

English Versus BSL? By Mervyn James

I think a lot of deaf are upset at the command of grammar and written English when they get responses that way. Deaf annoyed when lengthy text responses go in to debates and discussions, when maybe their sole reliance is on sign not text as such.

At a number of levels including captioned TV and films etc. Some deaf can still struggle and the age-old system deaf used in their social clubs, of ‘Chinese Whispers’  still seems a valid way for them to pass on information to each other when some meeting or other has gone to length to discuss some involved issue.

Some attach their love of BSL grammar and signs, to the argument to oppose, but basically we should just look at it as horses for courses. If you ‘dumb down’ (and this is a serious issue with some hearing interpreters and others), it is asking for trouble from some deaf, because they feel insulted. If you use good English and grammar, some may well struggle with it, it is sod’s law, and you will not win.

Over 40 years’ experience with signing deaf that I have, including deaf club attendances and socialising with them, the longer and more detailed your responses or technical input, the more uncertain and disinterested they become. That simple statement will be seen by some as patronising, but when you are faced with 30-40 or so deaf people you are faced with deaf with academic abilities ranging from poor to excellent, and everything between, but only one level of skill/communication comes from the centre. It is inevitable a fair percentage of those in attendance then will not follow a lot of the details at all.

However during observations I did point out, that when they went straight to sign only communications, there were actually huge gaps in translation there too, and they were not getting all. Deaf purists brushed it off as ‘BSL Concepts’ include detail too, but they do not explain how, Interpreters more accurately said they pitch to their education abilities and observations on what they felt the deaf client can take in. However having done that, where do they inform the necessary areas of the details they think the deaf client won’t understand?

Of course, here is no identification of those deaf able to follow these mysterious BSL concepts, a lot just go with what they can see via the simple signs used. The BSL dictionary was actually panned by the deaf as appearing to be manufactured by hearing people, and signs invented on the spot to fill space, there have been many additions and clarification since, and the age-gap means under 30s may not be able to follow ‘new’ BSL effectively now.

Interpreters and lay people, tend to Stick to the highlights omit ‘boring details’, but, the devil is IN the detail isn’t it? I distinctly recall attending an local authority meeting, with a sign interpreter in attendance who stopped half-way through the meeting stating she hadn’t the signs available for some of the technical terms being used, and the deaf there were struggling to follow as she tried desperately to explain the terms another way……. It is amazing many deaf do not realise Interpreters specialise too, via court interpreting only, and in schools, and in health areas. Do they insist the suitably qualified terp is there? Do they KNOW the terp specialities?

In Health areas, very few actually are skilled enough in signing medical terminology. The approach? They ‘dumb down’, make it simple to understand, good? Or maybe not if a vital fact passes the deaf patient by. If we watch BSL on TV, is that the same BSL used on the street? Maybe it is not! There is a system of ‘media signing’ which is designed to make the most access to the most deaf, but that has been debated as accurate or widely understandable, because of UK regional differences in sign, and the subtitles are usually the ‘bridge’ that saves the BSL day. Basically near all BSL Interpreters are hearing and from hearing education, even subconsciously they will avoid the ‘grammar’ of BSL without being aware. It is not a fault as such.

Interpreters DON’T accurately adjudge the academic skills of their client, some may only meet that client 5-10 minutes before they start, no time at all to establish the right ‘pitch’ or level of sign to that client. That is why deaf people prefer same terps all the time, so that the rapport is there and it helps both parties to follow, these days, you cannot rely on having the same people all the time.

We live in an English written/speaking and spoken world, maybe BSL is just for the purists?

By Mervyn James who can also be found “At The Rim”.

Mr Mervyn James.

Mr Mervyn James.

Disability Sensitivity Training Video.

This video which was initially shared by Action On Hearing Loss (AOHL) earlier, caught my eye and made me smile so sharing in the hope that it will also make your heart smile too.

 “The easiest way to show respect is to focus on the person, not their disability.”

~ SJ (Sara Jae)