Category Archives: Deaf

Signs of madness, hope and coolness!

Signs of various kinds are brightening the world at the moment, let me tell you all about them!

I’m in a play! It’s called ‘The Birds’ and it’s based on the Ancient Greek comedy of the same name by Aristophanes. I’m not sure how much I can reveal, but the rehearsals have been brilliant, and the play is mad and funny. How many plays have you seen where the cast burst into song whilst transforming into other creatures? None? Then come to this!

It’s completely bonkers and a good laugh, but it doesn’t pull any punches in its’ analogies between the ‘Birds’ and the political situation today. I don’t have many lines but I’ll have a certain… regal… air. Bow to me! The cast are great, and I can vouch for their comedic talents. Have I whetted your curiosity yet? Then come on down to The Sherman Theatre on 11th and 12th May! All BSL terped of course, plenty of signs of madness to be seen! And I don’t just mean the terp… 🙂

The theatre blurb says to expect the unexpected as Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School present their unique version of Aristophanes’s Greek comedy The Birds, directed by Cheryl Martin.

Expect the unexpected all right!

‘Signs of Hope: Deafhearing Family Life’ tells the story of a narrative inquiry with three deafhearing families. For many people, deafness represents loss and silence. For others, being deaf is a genetic quirk; an opportunity for learning, spiritual adventure and reward. (Yes, I lifted that from the official blog). The author, Dr Donna West, spent time – a lot of time – with three families, and this book is the result. What makes this book unique is the poetic and performative narratives at the heart of it; she has effectively communicated the families’ and individuals’ hopes and fears in an artistic, nuanced way.

I had the opportunity to attend a seminar Dr West gave about her research a while ago, and as part of it she showed us a poem that one of the deaf children, referred to as Bella, had written / created. It was a powerful analogy between penguins and a particular experience of deafness – you’ll have to read the book if you want that to make sense! But it inspired me to create a sign language poem based what I’d read, entitled ‘Bella’s Penguins’, that’s how expressive it was. This book may be well worth a read not only for its study of the experiences of a deaf/hearing family, but also for how these experiences have been described and narrated.

It will be launched at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol on the 25th April, see the official blog for more info! All welcome, BSL terps laid on.

And lastly, after being blown away by the leader of the United States being able to sign (and his wife!) my inner geek is geeking out at a video that looks like it’s gonna go viral – it’s up to 1.9 million hits so far! What video?

Sir Paul ‘needs no introduction’ McCartney has only gone and produced a video of Natalie ‘Star Wars’ Portman and Johnny ‘that’s Captain Jack Sparrow’ Depp signing his song ‘My Valentine’.

Signing!

True, it’s American Sign Language, not British (and that sign is not ‘tampon’, it’s ASL, and it’s the correct ASL sign for ‘appear’. Forgive me for giggling though!) but the actors used are themselves American, so maybe if this video gets popular enough, Sir McCartney will come back to his roots and do a BSL version with some Brit celebs, though how he’s going to top Natalie ‘just call me the Black Swan’ Portman and Johnny ‘cool is my middle name’ Depp I’ve no idea. Love to see him try though!

Natalie Portman definitely has a natural style, I’d love to know if she’s signed before rehearsing for this video, and how much rehearsing it took. Johnny Depp has a certain moody stare that will no doubt set some hearts fluttering but whilst his hands aren’t as fluid as Portmans’, he still carries it off in style (is there anything he can’t carry off in style?).

Love it!

Signs of madness, hope and coolness indeed – I always knew signs could express anything, but it’s time the world knew it too. Go Sir McCartney!

What will it take? How about a collapsed trial?

I had originally planned to make my next blog post all about my impressions of America from a deaf perspective, but events have overtaken me somewhat. Whilst I faithfully promise to tell all about being a deaf tourist in the most deaf-aware country I have ever visited at some point, today I want to talk about the latest hoo-ha surrounding the Ministry of Justice’s wonderful new scheme for court interpreters.

Just to give some background, the system for finding an interpreter for court used to be that someone would contact some qualified interpreters from a national register who had usually also undertaken further training for legal interpreting and ask them if they were available. If they were, said interpreter would be paid a flat fee of £85, a quarter-hourly rate after three hours, and were paid for travel time and expenses.

Maybe this old system wasn’t perfect, but even the judges accepted that it worked. The problem? It was expensive. Enter Applied Language Solutions, who bid for, and remarkably, won the entire interpreting contract for the Ministry of Justice in a deal designed to save £18 million.

(Edit: I will henceforth refer to Applied Language Solutions as ‘Applied’, apologies to Accredited Language Services of New York, for inadvertently messing all over their trademark ALS for the first 12 hours this post was live. Oops. For the record, they have nothing to do with this. On with the motley!)

What did Applied do to achieve this target? They slashed interpreters’ fees to a three-tier system of hourly fees of £16, £20 and £22 with no travel payments and reduced expenses for what is, let’s face it, a very tough job. Then they wondered why nobody wanted to work for them. Indeed, the whole business with Applied has sparked protests and a campaign against them that even Unite has joined.

I first commented on this in a blog post entitled British Special Language, where I mocked a couple of large ‘one stop shop’ interpreting firms for their lack of knowledge of those they were serving, lamented the new court interpreting contract, and hoped they would sort out the mess soon.

Two months later, what’s happened? After weeks of adjournments and delays caused by no-shows or poor interpreting by those willing to take Applied’s fees, a trial has actually collapsed thanks to an interpreter supplied by Applied. It’s going to cost £25,000. Now that’s an expensive interpreter.

For me, it’s not so much that the interpreter made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. And phonetically, there’s not much difference between ‘beaten’ and ‘bitten’. No, it’s that the interpreter then admitted to the court that they had realised their mistake, but had said nothing.

They realised they had misunderstood, and interpreted something wrongly, but did nothing about it. The mistake was only discovered when the prosecution cross-examined the defendant. The judge had to order a retrial.

That has to be one of the clearest ethical breaches in interpreting that I have ever heard of. Quite apart from anything else, an interpreter in court has to swear that:

“I swear (or… promise) by Almighty God (or other god recognised by his or her religion) that I will well and truly interpret the evidence that will be given and do all other matters and things that are required of me in this case to the best of my ability.” (Evidence Act 2008, Schedule 1)

Applied seem to be employing interpreters for court who are apparently completely ignorant of “contempt of court”. For clarification, it’s:

Contempt of court is essentially where somebody is deemed to have interfered with the administration of justice. This may take several forms but each of them will result in justice itself not being properly carried out. It is for this reason that contempt of court is seen as such a serious offence and which results in possible prison sentences.”

So tell me, what does an interpreter have to do to be arrested around here? How about break an oath and cause a trial to collapse?

And what about contempt proceedings against Applied for employing hopeless interpreters? Apparently, thats not going to happen.

The Attorney General has said that Applied cannot be done for contempt, but there may be provision under the ‘wasted costs’ orders. £25,000 for a new trial seems like a wasted cost to me. And apparently, it may be possible for defendants who have had to stay in custody thanks to Applied to pursue civil claims against them. In fact, one solicitor says he has two cases where they are “discussing” pursuing false imprisonment against Applied. Dear, oh dear.

RPSI linguist lounge, a not-for-profit website run by registered public service interpreters (RPSIs) for registered public service interpreters, is awash with horror stories about Applied. The Anonymous Interpreter tells how the new system is probably saving money, but not by any ethical means.

And yet, Applied seem to be clinging on. I wonder for how much longer, and what it will take?

We’re approaching the end of April, and apparently, the Framework Agreements under which Applied has its contract will be up for review. In honour of this, RPSI have organised a demonstration on Monday 16th April outside the offices of the Ministry of Justice and the Houses of Parliament.

I’ll be following what the Ministry of Justice chooses to do about this shambles with interest, and so, I suspect, will many others.

Interpreters, whether they be for spoken or sign languages, deserve better than this. So do our courts, and the people who have to find their way through them.

Shit people say… to Sign Language Interpreters

In the midst of my preparations for – or rather avoiding my preparations for – Signing Hands Across the Water, I’ve been collecting some information for this post for a little while now.

When my ‘shit hearing people say… to deaf people’ blog became a surprise hit, I pondered on other possible themes for the meme (ooh, poetry, and I wasn’t even trying) and a chance comment by a Sign Language Interpreter made me think… what DO people say to Sign Language Interpreters?

So I asked a few terps, all of whom shall remain anonymous, and wow. Seriously, wow. I’m assured that most people are not like this, but as the saying goes, there’s always one…

“How long did it take you to learn Braille?”
It’s depressing and fascinating how many terps gave an example linked to Braille, from “do you speak Braille?” to “I’ve always wanted to learn Braille.” What is this obsession with Braille???

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert silly word that is usually easy to interpret*
Grow up.

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert rude word that then gets a laugh – at terp*
No, really, grow up.

“Who do I look at, you or them?”
Sigh.

“Oh no, don’t interpret that!”… the answer is usually “I just did.”
Sign Language Interpreters usually interpret simultaneously. You cannot call things back. And also – Booyah!

“They look a bit angry don’t they?” (Of someone who is just signing)
Do they look angry? Does their face look angry? Believe me, you’ll KNOW when they’re angry.

“Are you the signer?”
Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the sign lady?”
No, they’re the Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the madam interpreter?”
They’re not a dominatrix! Notice the lack of studded whips and fluffy handcuffs. They’re a SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the sign gesture person?”
Nearly, but not quite. It’s SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the hand waver?”
Oh, for the love of…

“Excuse me, do you mind not interpreting this? This is a private conversation.” (while on the phone and speaking loudly enough to hear)
Excuse you, if the deaf person was hearing, they’d hear your little tiff with your soon-to-be-ex, just like every other hearing person in the vicinity, in fact I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a few people are listening. Why shouldn’t the deaf person have the same access to this salacious gossip? Now leave the poor terp alone.

*When asked for more prep (since they had hardly provided any at all)*
“Oh, why? You’re not going to be miming that as well, are you?”
Words fail me. Or should I say mimes…?

“Oh, you work with deaf people? Oh, that’s so nice / wonderful / kind of you.”
Yeah…

“Hi, we need an interpreter, we have someone who is hearing-challenged…”
Deaf. I’m deaf.

“Oh, I used to know someone who was stone deaf.”
And your point is?

“Where’s the interrupter?”
We’ve gone over this.

“Oh how terrible it must be to be deaf… but I’d rather be deaf than blind.”
That remark would be random at the best of times.

“Do they always use hand signals?”
No, sometimes we use flashing lights, vibrations and touch. Or sometimes we use the medium of dance. Get down, baby!

Speaking of dance…

“Did you train at a dance school?”
Look, it was a sarcastic comment, OK? We don’t really communicate in dance. Except under special circumstances involving nightclubs and hot non-signing people.

“If you lose your job, you can become a tictac man!” *laughs*
I actually had to have this one explained to me; apparently at the horse races, the guys taking bets can communicate odds at some distance with special hand signals to each other. Oh, I see. Ha ha ha.

“If you lose your job, you can get a job as a plane marshal! You know, the ones with the orange flags?” *laughs*
Ha, bloody ha.

“Can I get one like you?”
Get one what? Can you clarify exactly what you mean, before someone calls the police?

“That must be almost as difficult as doing foreign language interpreting.”
Erm, simultaneously interpreting from one language to another, something that’s usually only attempted at the UN, and Sign Language Interpreters do it every day… Almost as difficult, yeah.

“How brave that poor deaf person is.”
I know. Just this morning, I rescued a hamster from a house fire.

“How long have they been suffering from deafness?”
OK, that’s enough, I think I’ve seen enough now.

Or have I? If you’re a Sign Language Interpreter, for your sins, and you have some strange / weird / just plain stupid thing some random person has said to you about interpreting that I’ve missed, don’t keep it to yourself. Get it off your chest in the comments below!

You never know, as well as giving us all a good laugh, we might make a few people think. But let’s do it for the laugh 🙂

Sunday sermon – redefining or equalising marriage?

So the ConDems are doing one thing I agree with. One thing.

They’re seriously considering legalising same-sex marriage. I support this. Why shouldn’t two people who love each other, are of legal age and genetically unrelated get married? Why not? Beyond those bars (legality / age / maintaining genetic diversity) does it really matter? Why does anyone care? Surely there are bigger things to worry about? Like how this country is going to hell in a handbasket; a handbasket being carried by the ConDems, but I digress.

Various church and public figures have denounced the idea of legalising same-sex marriage. Most recently at the time of writing, Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brien has described the government’s plans as ‘madness’. Normally, I would agree, but again I digress.

The quotes I find most interesting in the article are:

“Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.”

Didn’t they say the same thing about divorce? Last I heard, nearly 50% or so of marriages end in divorce…

“Other dangers exist. If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another?”

And didn’t the Church of England via Henry VIII introduce the concept of divorce in the first place? Talk about redefining marriage! And as for redefining marriage as a heterosexual, monogamous union, see below.

“The cardinal has added his voice to those of leading figures in the Coalition for Marriage, a group of bishops, politicians and lawyers opposed to the changes. The group’s supporters include Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury. He urges people to respond to the government’s consultation on the proposals by signing a petition in support of traditional marriage.”

Traditional marriage? When they talk about traditional marriage, which tradition do they mean?

The distinctly non-feminist tradition?

Ephesians 5:23-24
New International Version (NIV)
23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Exodus 21:22
New International Version (NIV)
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[a] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband* demands and the court allows.

(*My emphasis)

Or the tradition where children – usually daughters – would be given away to be someone’s wife?

Genesis 29:20-23
New International Version (NIV)
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.” 22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.

Judges 1:12-13
New International Version (NIV)
12 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

Or the tradition where a childless widow could be ‘given’ to a man’s brother/s?

Matthew 22:24-35
New International Version (NIV)
24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

That’s right. After the poor woman has been passed on like chattel around seven brothers and finally dies, Jesus doesn’t condemn this. He just says there will be no marriage at the resurrection, which now I think about it, kind of challenges the ‘forever’ aspect of marriage as well.

Or the tradition where men could have more than one wife, or even a harem?

How many wives did King David have again?

1 Chronicles 3
New International Version (NIV)
1 These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron:
The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel:
the second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel;
2 the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith;
3 the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
and the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah.
4 These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months.
David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years, 5 and these were the children born to him there:
Shammua,[a] Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba[b] daughter of Ammiel. 6 There were also Ibhar, Elishua,[c] Eliphelet, 7 Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, 8 Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet—nine in all. 9 All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines. And Tamar was their sister.

By my count, that’s seven wives, plus concubines. Busy man.

Or the tradition where a rape victim is compelled to marry her attacker?

Deuteronomy 22:28-29
New International Version (NIV)
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[b] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Wow. Just… wow.

Or the tradition where enemy soldiers can marry female prisoners of war?

Deuteronomy 21:10-14
New International Version (NIV)
10 When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

That’s great. Capture her, marry her, and if you don’t like her, put her out on the street. That’s romantic stuff. Mills & Boon, eat your heart out.

But really, taking pot-shots at the definition of ‘traditional marriage’ isn’t my main point here. Indeed, it can be said that you can find quotes in the Bible to condemn or support most things. There are certainly passages in the Bible that are less misogynistic.

No, my main point is equality. D/deaf and disabled people are a minority. LGBT people are a minority. Now imagine being disabled / D/deaf and LGBT at the same time. That’s an even smaller minority, even more isolation, and even more opportunities for discrimination. Until disabled / D/deaf people are treated as fully equal and LGBT people are treated as fully equal, those of us who are in the middle of that particular Venn diagram are never going to feel as if society fully accepts us for who we are.

These church leaders and public figures are right about one thing – marriage is a union between two people who love each other, want to spend their lives together, and want to express that in a universally recognised way. But saying that it’s exclusive to one man and one woman and supporting that argument by saying that it’s always been that way is clearly a fallacy.

One day I may well get married. I might meet a deaf BSL user, or a hearing person who’s either willing to learn basic BSL or doesn’t mind that I disappear into the deaf community once in a while. Someone who isn’t scared off by my deafness / walking stick / operation scars / obsession with science fiction. Of course, it goes without saying that they must like cats. If they can cook as well, well then that’s fantastic. And if I can find that special someone who loves me for me and wants to marry me, aids, stick, cats, scars, warts and all, why does it matter whether that person is a man or a woman?

Why?

Petition for Equal Marriage
Bible quotations from BibleGateway.com

Signing Hands Across The Water!

Later this month, I’ll have the privilege of joining three other BSL poets – Richard Carter, Paul Scott and John Wilson – in flying over to Philadelphia, to take part in Signing Hands Across the Water, an international sign language poetry festival. We’ll be joined by three American Sign Language poets, the double act of Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner of the Flying Words Project and Debbie Rennie, and from March 16th – 18th we’re going to be putting on an amazing festival!

For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the Metaphor in Creative Sign Language project, brainchild of none other than Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence, and Dr Michiko Kaneko (who organised the first BSL poetry event in Bristol, the BSL Haiku Festival way back in 2006) ably aided and abetted by researcher Dr Donna West. As part of this project I’ve taken part in research and performed at Bristol Sign Poetry Festivals at Bristol Deaf Centre. Thanks to this opportunity, I’ve had the chance to develop my skills and confidence in creating Sign Language poetry and am really honoured to be part of Hands Across the Water – and I hope that this festival will encourage and inspire others!

Dr Sutton-Spence is currently Cornell Visiting Professor (Professor! I must remember to bow when I see her :)) at Swarthmore College, and the festival is being organised as part of her work there. She shoots, she scores! Of course, there are lots of other people involved in organising this incredible event and I’d just like to take this moment to thank them all – thank you!

Naturally, I’m nervous, this festival has been a comfortably long way off for ages, then all of a sudden… all of a sudden it’s March. It’s March! When did that happen? Two weeks from now I’m going to be on stage at an international Sign Language Poetry festival! Quick, someone pass me a paper bag… *breathes*

There’ll be workshops, public conversations and a big evening performance by all the featured poets. It’s shaping up to be an amazing celebration of Sign Language poetry, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a while, and I really hope that this is part of a resurgence of interest and development of this beautiful art-form!

Plus, look at this cool banner! Martin Haswell is a genius. How can a festival with a banner that cool not be amazing?

Come on down!

I’m feeling so inspired, I’ve come up with a poem in honour of the event;

Professor Rachel Sutton-Spence,
A researcher most rare,
Sign language poetry champion
And linguist extraordinaire

Swarthmore College, Philadelphia
Seven poets will gather there
For workshops and performances
Beautiful poetry they will share

Signing Hands Across the Water
For all who want to see
What are you all waiting for?
Everything is free

Just register your interest
Come along, pull up a chair
And watch Sign Language Poetry
Flying through the air!

Whether or not this is an example of the quality of poetry – English or Signed – that people can expect from me at the festival: no comment. 🙂

I just really, really like (accessible) theatre…

Well that’s it – I’m officially a bit mad. Why else would I bounce across to Cardiff in the morning for a university seminar, then across to London to watch stabbings, mental breakdowns, a brilliantly twisted future and a visual story I could have watched all night?

At least it was an interesting day. I got up at just before 7 and got to bed around 1, having caught the late train back to Bristol. Sometimes that’s just the way it works out, when you have rehearsals on the Friday and Saturday, (more about that in a future post!) ruling out Thurs night as well, leaving Weds and a bonkers travel schedule. Why? All for the love of theatre. This is how much I love theatre. Specifically, this is how much I love theatre that I can access.

Deafinitely Theatre’s 4Play is a showcase of four short plays written by Deafinitely Creative competition finalists. I was lucky enough to be one of the featured writers last year, and I wanted to come and see what they’re up to now.

I wasn’t disappointed. The first two plays were quite dark, the first, A Sweet Slice of Life written by Stephen Collins I found a bit hard to follow I admit, but it makes more sense now I’ve read Charlie Swinbourne’s review at Disability Arts Online. That’s not to say it wasn’t powerful and bloody surreal; and if I know Stephen’s work, then his objective has probably been achieved.

Confusions of a Shadow Boxer by Matthew Gurney had an amazing twist that I didn’t see coming, and gave food for thought. The next two plays were much lighter, and being a sci-fi nut, I really enjoyed Lianne Herbert’s TwentyFortySeven, which turned the future on its head with a deaf-led government. Some moments were hilarious, with just enough dark undertone to keep it real. The last play, Absence in Time by Vitalis Katakinas was completely visual, with no BSL or speech, but still perfectly clear – and funny. Judging by some of the laughter, the audience were wetting themselves. Job done.

Congrats to all the writers, actors and directors on a great show, thanks for making my train tickets worthwhile! Was good to see some of the people around as well, even if I was babbling nonsense as I dashed out of the door to get back to Paddington.

4Play is on at RADA Studios until Saturday 25th February. It’s important to know this was formerly The Drill Hall, that way you won’t follow the directions on the bloody ticket and end up going round to the Malet St entrance of RADA…

Today has been spent mostly sleeping or napping. Tomorrow I’ll be going to Cardiff for rehearsals for – ah, no. I think I’ll wait and see what’s going on first (I’m still not sure yet, these are the first rehearsals) and update on Sunday or Monday. Mind you I’ve built it up a little now, can only hope people won’t be disappointed when I reveal that…

British Special Language?

British… Special… Language.

This is what Language Empire apparently thought BSL stood for. The average layman in the street might not know that BSL means British Sign Language, and this is a very sad thing. But Language Empire is a professional organisation that provides interpreters for a whole host of languages, including BSL.

British Special Language. They’ve replaced that with British Sign Language on the page now, so someone must have brought it to their attention, but they seem to have forgotten about the URL.

http://www.language-empire.com/services-british-special-language.php

It gets better – according to the logos that they proudly display on their front page, Language Empire has contracts with the JobCentre, ATOS, DWP, Community Legal Service, NHS, Tribunals Service, BUPA, Metropolitan Police, etc. You’d think with such a multitude of lucrative contracts, they could make the effort to learn what a simple acronym stands for.

It gets even better. Look again at that page. What the hell are those hands doing? That’s not the BSL alphabet. That’s taking the piss.

Also:
“BSL and other special disability communication professionals”
Beg pardon? What are you talking about?

“Language-Empire provides British Sign Language & Special Disability Interpreters”
Uh… I hope you mean fully trained, NRCPD accredited BSL interpreters. 

“Language Empire will only hire BSL and special disability interpreters approved by the `National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People.”
Oh, you do. Well, thank goodness for that. For a moment there I thought you were a bunch of amateurs who decided to include BSL in your language interpreting portfolio because you heard you could make money.

But I wish they’d stop calling interpreters, note-takers, lipspeakers, STTRs and deafblind interpreters “special disability interpreters”, it’s making me twitch. I mean, what does that even mean? I’ve never seen ‘special disability interpreters’ advertised anywhere else, ever. How did they get so many contracts to provide BSL interpreters?

The same question could be asked of ALS, which on their page for British Sign Language Interpreting Services, (kudos to them btw for getting that right, and how sad it is that I’m applauding such a simple thing) though it appears a little more well-informed than Language Empire’s page, makes a reference to ‘St Vincent’s variety’ of BSL. What? Some discussion amongst deafies on twitter seems to suggest that St Vincent’s is a deaf school, which if true, then you might as well name every variation of BSL that comes out of any deaf school, i.e. ‘Mary Hare variety’. But I wouldn’t recommend doing that, not unless you want to start something.

Anyway. Lip-speakers are not a variety of sign language interpreting, nor are written translation services. That said, despite a couple of slips here and there, the ALS page comes off a lot better, and certainly not as howling as ‘British Special Language’.

But I will say this – “For meetings and events longer than 2 hours at least two interpreters are necessary.”
Er, if you make a BSL interpreter interpret on their own for two hours solid, they’ll have a brain meltdown. Believe me, I know. I saw it happen once when one half of a pair didn’t turn up, and after two hours the poor thing was a mess. The cut-off point that I’ve been told is an hour, max. Anything more is cruel. Don’t make me report you to the RSPC… I mean ASLI.

No, the problem with ALS seems to be a distinct lack of popularity. With… well, everyone. Despite reported issues going back to last year:
Row erupts over police interpreters – Feb 2011
Police rip up contract with interpreter agency – Mar 2011
Ministry of Justice in line of fire over interpreters contract – Jul 2011

ALS somehow landed a contract in August 2011 to supply interpreters for the criminal justice system in England and Wales, starting a few weeks ago. The entire system. For dozens of languages. The idea apparently being “if we give all our money to one organisation, it won’t cost as much”. Right.

Here’s how things are going so far:
Courts given green light to hire own interpreters as ALS struggles to cope
Court chaos follows interpreter change
Lawyers slam government’s court interpreting system
Ministry of Justice admits ‘teething problems’ with interpreting system

And of course, for every screw-up, that’s more money that it costs to fix it, and trials aren’t cheap. That’s why you pay for a service in the first place; to try and get it right first time. Pay less, get less. Spend more fixing it. And what happens to the defendants in the meantime? I hope they can clean up this mess, somehow, and soon.

How have we come to this? Big super-massive spoken language agencies whoring, I mean hiring out BSL interpreters? Three words; one stop shopping. Here’s what the Anonymous Interpreter thinks of that: Words that strike fear into the heart of the Sign Language Interpreter.

Furthermore, the LinguistLounge, which appears to be part of ALS, or Applied Language Solutions, proudly has a video that explains the provision of BSL interpreting services for the Ministry of Justice contract.

It doesn’t have subtitles. Or BSL interpretation. *Buzzzzz*

They do helpfully provide a script, and it’s full of vim and vigour and go get ‘em attitude, which I’m having a hard time equating with the slating they’re getting.

All I know is, if I need a BSL interpreter in a new area, my first stop is the ASLI directory. At least they know what BSL stands for.

Heavenly Delights

Ooh dear. The last few posts have been fun to write, and very cathartic, but I wonder if I’m getting too down on the world. Really, it’s not that bad. I was led to realise this last night, when I settled down to watch LoveFilm’s latest offering, Nina’s Heavenly Delights. I recently bought myself a post-xmas present, from me, to me, an iPad2. This will become relevant to the story. I put the DVD in my laptop. I made myself comfortable – Penguin biscuits; check. Cushions; check. Refreshing drink; check. The menu screen came up. Play Movie, Scenes, and Play Trailer. No setup or audio options. No hidden button (that I could find anyway) saying “for subtitles click HERE”. Sighing and wishing that LoveFilm made it more clear on their listings whether a DVD is subtitled or not, and plotting a new email asking about such, I took out the DVD, put it back in its envelope and got ready to seal it, ready to send it back the next day. Wait a minute… hold the phone.

Didn’t I download an app a few days ago…? Quick, have a look… yes! Yes! Yes!

Subtitles! That’s the name of the app, Subtitles, and it has access to oodles of files of subtitles for oodles of films. Simply search the title of the film and the app will find subtitles for it. Not only that, once you’ve downloaded the subtitles, the iPad will display the subtitles in sync with the film (just make sure you start them at the right moment). Literally, portable subtitles. This is fantastic. Who came up with this? I need to know so I can nominate them for a medal. But the test – would the app be able to find subtitles for a film so apparently low-budget that they couldn’t even be arsed to put subtitles on the DVD, despite it being made fairly recently in 2006?

Yes it could! So the DVD got a reprieve, was put back in the laptop, and I was able to enjoy a film that didn’t come with subtitles for the first time in… well, ever. Ever. And I checked, and it seems that it also has subtitles for Sanctuary, a DVD I bought many moons ago only to be bitterly disappointed when I discovered it wasn’t subtitled. I’m so happy about this I’m actually giddy.

True, it wasn’t perfect, the subtitles weren’t totally in sync so occasionally I had to tap the button to skip on a bit, or rein them back. It meant I had to concentrate a bit more on keeping up with the film, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was keeping up with it, a heavenly delight indeed! And enjoying it, despite a tendency to fade to black just as things were getting interesting. What a marvellous app, just needs a little ironing out and it’ll be perfect. Portable subtitles. Marvellous.

And this led me to consider; the 21st century in the UK isn’t so bad for the deaf after all. True, we still have to put up with a certain amount of ignorance; if you doubt me just read some of my previous blogs. But look what we have now. Smartphones. I couldn’t live without my BlackBerry now. Emails, text messages, Whatsapp, Facetime, Skype, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, there’s so many alternatives to the humble telephone now that I wonder why most corporations still haven’t caught up. My mother is also deaf, and tells me that attitudes have really improved since her time; some of her stories are worthy of a blog post to themselves. Subtitles on a lot of TV content, even if it’s going backwards at the moment with the current fashion for ‘live’ subtitles – what utter crap. Why live subtitle something that’s not being broadcast live? It just annoys. I digress. Subtitled cinema, and now for those films that aren’t subtitled, portable subtitles. Did I mention the portable subtitles? Now we need a version of that for plays and theatre, oh wait, we do, StageText. Big events like Sencity and Clin d’Oeil. iPads with all their wonderful apps and delights. There’s so much going for deaf people right now that we’ve got to capitalise on it and try and make this world even better.

More subtitled cinema! More captioned and interpreted plays! Banks that routinely offer text message services to deaf customers! Legal requirements for DVDs to be accessible! Sign language lessons for children! More interpreters! Dream big!

We’ve already got smartphones, emails, social websites and portable subtitles. How can we improve things tomorrow? If you’re like Charlie Swinbourne, you’ll set up a new website for news, info and opinions about and for the deaf community, and call it – what else? – limpingchicken.com. Naturally. 🙂

Updated shit hearing people say…

Recently, I wrote a post called “shit hearing people say” and it seems that spoke to a few people as well, it’s amazing (and a little depressing) how common some of them were. Well, I’ve remembered some more. Again, all of the following is shit that has actually been said to me, and again I’ve included my own comments / thoughts that whilst not what I said at the time, was pretty much what I was thinking. And again, a disclaimer, not all hearing people are like this. Many of them are, in fact, lovely.

*Making random hand shapes and looking confused / irritated when I don’t understand*
Waving your hands about randomly is not sign language. It makes about as much sense as thinking that if you go “lllllrlrlrlrlrrrrrrlrlllllll” you’re suddenly speaking Welsh.

“CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?”
I heard you the first time. I just didn’t understand you. If I started speaking Japanese, would you understand me then? But you can hear me, isn’t that the same thing? No? You don’t say.

“Perhaps you could add your father to your bank account and that way we could call him and discuss things without bothering you with a phone call you every time.”
Thank you for that suggestion, HSBC. Or you could just do you’re damn well asked and just text me if there’s a problem. I’m perfectly capable of managing my own financial affairs, thank you.

“You’re SO brave!”
Let me tell you a story. A few days after the D-Day Landings, my great-uncle parachuted behind Nazi lines into occupied France. If I’ve inherited any of that gumption I’ll be delighted. But calling me brave merely for getting on with my life somehow feels like an insult compared to the things that people have done and do every day. When I parachute into an enemy-occupied country, you can call me brave. Operation Jedburgh. Look them up.

*Covering their mouth with their hand and mumbling* “did you understand that?” *giggling*
So tempting to hold up my hand in a popular gesture and ask if you understood that…

*Grabbing my arm and spinning me round to look at them* “Hey! Didn’t you hear what I was saying? We’re shutting IN TEN MINUTES!”
Funnily enough, no I didn’t. Unhand me or I’ll exercise my right to self-defence.

“Where can I learn how to do that?” *After staring, fascinated, at my signing*
If you really want to learn, why not google sign language courses in your area? Most likely your local college will have a course or two. Or your local Uni. Just please don’t ask me.

“How much can you hear?”
It’s amazing how many times I’ve had this question. I suppose it’s a natural curiosity to wonder what I can hear but the fact is, it’s not a fair question. You’re asking me to judge what I get through my hearing-aids and something I have no memory or knowledge of. I can tell you that tannoys sound like lawnmowers if they ever learned to talk – quiet lawnmowers. I can tell you that if you listen to my hearing-aids through a device that some audiologists have (a sort of stethoscope but with a bit that hooks to your earmould instead of a freezing cold disc of metal) you’ll hear distorted, loud clanging noises. My brain has had to learn to make sense of that. How much can I hear? Do you know, I genuinely don’t know. I hear pianos, cars and birds, but only in isolation. The environment HAS to be quiet, or any noise is just lost in the din. I mean, why does it matter?

“Do we have to have the subtitles on? It’s so distracting.”
No, not at all. Here, let’s turn the sound off as well. Well, I don’t need it…

*Pointing to a car whose alarm is shrieking* “Can you hear that?”
Hear it, are you kidding me? I’ve had to turn my hearing-aids off. And now my tinnitus has a new noise to play with. Oh, great.

“What happens if I do this?” *tap hearing-aid / touch earmould / push earmould*
Hey, pal. Not cool. I want you to consider my aids as very much part of my personal bubble, OK? Also, inside my ear, my earmoulds are literally millimetres away from my eardrum. A direct blow – or an unexpected push on the outside of the mould – can actually be quite painful. Not. Cool.

“What’s it like to live in a world of silence?”
Whoa, ease up on the melodrama there, fella. Besides, I wouldn’t know. I have tinnitus, which is like a constant noise in my ears. Sometimes I wish I did live in a world of silence. Didn’t see that coming did you?

“Oh, I’m sorry, I said half-past eight. You must have misheard me.”
If you made a mistake with the time, be honest and own up to it. Don’t make me paranoid that I did mishear you after all, and that I can’t lip-read to save my life. Not. Cool.

“Does she drink tea?” *to my mother, literally while I was standing next to her*
No. She doesn’t. 

“Have you heard about God? God’s love is…”
“No I’m deaf, excuse me…”
*Shrieks* “God can cure you! God can cure all things! God’s love is all-powerful! He is all-highest!” *while tapping ears and waving arms in air and rolling eyes and holding up hands in supplication*
Oh God, let’s get out of here! Go, go, go!

“WHAAAAT’S YOOOOOUUUUURRRRRRRR NAAAAAAAAAAMMMMME?”
Sigh.

“Why can’t you use a telephone?”
Sigh, again. Just because you understand what I’m saying, doesn’t mean I understand what you’re saying. Tell me, how do I lip-read a telephone?

“Can you read?”
Can you?

“How do your hearing-aids work?”
No idea. All I know is; Microphone – delicate electronics – amplifier – earmould. There’s no magic. That really is all a hearing-aid is. And no, you cannot take it apart to find out. 

“How can you not know that? Everyone’s been talking about it for DAYS!”
FYI, my hearing-aids are not so good that they can pick out voices from the environment around me and make sense of them. Nowhere near. Also, I’m not a telepath.

“Are you deaf?!”
Yes. Well done.

Once again, the italics are just what’s in my head, and I really do believe that honest and patient answers are the best way to get rid of ignorance. It’s just that sometimes, one’s patience is sorely tested.

And most hearing people are OK. Really.

My Take on Chickengate

Wow. In the time it took to restart my brain after the BSL poetry festival (which was great btw!) and hand in my essay and then catch up with my life after obsessing about said essay, it seems a new meme has been created – “my chicken is ill”.

In case this needs explanation, there was a programme on BBC3 and iPlayer called Deaf Teens: Hearing World looking at how several deaf teenagers with varying backgrounds were dealing with becoming adults in a hearing world, going to college, uni and amazing deaf gatherings and in some cases, how the world reacted to them. One deaf teenager, waiting to go in her first college lecture, was approached by her notetaker, who due to a mix-up at student support had only been booked for one hour instead of two. The reason why she had to leave after one hour was because her chicken was ill. No word of a lie, she stood in front of a TV camera, looked the student in the eye, and said that she had to leave to take her chicken to the vet. I have to give that woman props for honesty.

Cue the twitterstorm, the facebook page, the jokes, the laughter. That notetaker took a kicking. Perhaps understandably, but the voice of reason came in the guise of Charlie Swinbourne, who made several good points; it wasn’t the notetaker’s mix-up, it was student support’s, the fact that the notetaker was able to sign, a rarity indeed and shows dedication, and as he says, she must have really loved that chicken.

But “my chicken is ill” still makes me laugh, and the page is still going strong, though we’ve moved away from chicken-crossing-the-road jokes to more mundane topics. I think the reason this phrase became such an instant hit was because it served as an ultimate example of the excuses that the world gives deaf people for not being accessible.

It wasn’t just that a notetaker appeared to be placing the health of a chicken above a deaf student’s access to their education.

It was LoveFilm emailing me back to say that they only offer subtitles on their foreign language films because a) their system didn’t currently support a wider use of subtitles and b) they were sorry for the inconvenience. (Inconvenience? That their online streaming is almost totally useless to me? That’s an inconvenience? I replied, quoting the Equality Act. It’s all gone quiet.)

It was whatsonstage.com saying that they don’t currently include whether a show is captioned / BSL interpreted in their listings but they were “looking into it”.

It was offwestend.com telling me pretty much the same thing.

It was HSBC telling me that they thought I was being unreasonable when I pointed out that their discriminatory practices were not only breaking the law, they were in breach of their own ethical codes of banking practice.

It was Student Finance England telling me they never received my travel and book receipts for DSA despite the fact that I sent them by recorded delivery.

It was the show organiser telling me they hadn’t booked an interpreter for the show despite having interpreters for the discussion beforehand because they couldn’t find one for the show. Despite having found them for the discussion beforehand… (Er, ASLI website? Agencies? Or just ask me, even. Try!)

It was the organiser of the poetry event standing up and saying that they hadn’t booked BSL interpreters for the spoken poetry because they weren’t interpreting the BSL poetry and that was fair… wasn’t it? (Hearing people can look at BSL poetry and at least guess, especially with more visual poets. What do you expect the deaf to do about spoken poetry? For pity’s sake, you’ve even got a projection screen above the stage you could have projected the words on. What’s wrong with you people?)

It was the [insert service] company who hung up on typetalk three times before I finally got through.

It was my Local Education Authority refusing to fund more note-takers at school because I was “doing too well” and they even tried to cut my funding.

It was the shop assistant who treated me like I was an idiot because I hadn’t understood what she was saying.

It was the DWP cutting my DLA without warning and making me go through a year of appeals and a tribunal before I got it back.

It was the manager of the JobCentre refusing to book me an interpreter because it wasn’t “in the budget”.

It was the woman who said I “spoke so well” she “didn’t think I’d need an interpreter” and then couldn’t understand why I got upset.

It’s the audiology nurses who call my name in reception.

It’s the receptionists who don’t bother to look at me to ask me questions after I’ve told them I’m deaf and need to lip-read.

It’s BBC iPlayer apologising for the umpteenth time because their subtitles aren’t working.

It’s the security guard who nearly jumped me because I didn’t hear him saying the shop was going to shut soon, and then apologised for not noticing my blue earmoulds.

It’s the whole goddamn world telling me that it can’t make itself accessible for me because its chicken is ill.

It was a moment where we all identified; a moment where deaf people bonded over an access fail and a surreal excuse that made it all the more memorable. Really, we should be thanking that notetaker, not only for her honesty and for spawning so many chicken jokes, but for giving us all something to unite over.

Cheers, and I hope the chicken made a full recovery. And apologies in advance to all my notetakers and interpreters whom I will be asking about their chickens for months to come… 🙂