Category Archives: Equality

Access to Justice, my foot.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

A while ago I blogged about the Ministry of Justice’s decision to give the entire court interpreting contract to a certain company called Applied Language Solutions. Applied are a ‘one-stop shop’ of the kind beloved by the Anonymous Interpreter. Things were not going well.

They’re still not going well.

They’re going so badly in fact, that the Commons Justice Select Committee and the National Audit Office have confirmed they may investigate Applied, and the Crown Prosecution Service have delayed signing up fully to the framework agreement under which Applied supply interpreters.

I wonder why things aren’t going well. Maybe we can ask Jajo the Rabbit or Alexander Orlov the KGB Meerkat, both of whom are registered Applied interpreters. Oh, wait.

It seems that their human companions put their details onto a registration form for Applied as an experiment, and both have been sent invitations to an assessment, and regular job updates, despite not yet having attended said assessments, or indeed provided any documentation proving their credentials.

I’m sure it’s OK, no doubt there’s someone out there who really needs their trial translated into fluent nose-twitching and carrot-nibbling. And apparently, despite the stories of these non-human terps going public, they’re still registered and still getting emails.

This stringent adherence to only recruiting the best, most qualified interpreters and quick reactions to potentially embarrassing problems may have something to do with Applied’s woes.

Or it could be that Applied keep sending the wrong interpreter for the language requested; Czech for Slovakian, Latvian for Lithuanian, Somali for Kurdish Sorani, etc.

Or it could be that they think multiple defendants only need one interpreter.

Or it could be that they think that all languages can be found within a 25 mile radius.

Or it could be that the interpreters keep turning up late.

Or it could be that their interpreters sometimes don’t turn up at all.

And the Ministry of Justice have said they are now going to monitor the situation. Wait. Weren’t they monitoring it before?


It seems that Applied have been allowed to monitor their own performance and set their own performance indicators. As the MOJ said in the above article:

“The definitions of whether interpreters completed or not were decided by the company itself”

Under what circumstances does a contractor give a job to a sub-contractor, whilst saying:

“Here’s the money, and don’t forget to monitor your own performance so we don’t have to.”?

The irony here is that a google search for Paul Pindar (the CEO of Capita, the company that now owns Applied) throws up a link to an interview in the Independent, where he’s asked what the first thing he learned in business was. His response:

“One of the early ones was that if there’s an issue to be tackled then you should do it straight away. I’m a great believer that a small problem today becomes a big problem tomorrow. Fix challenges as soon as possible and then, hopefully, none of the problems will get out of control.”

That’s a lesson he would do well to pay attention to today.

Because amongst other horror stories at RPSI Linguist Lounge, there are several of court cases going ahead anyway, despite the lack of or incompetence of an interpreter.

Eventually some solicitor or barrister is going to check the Crown Prosecution Service’s legal guidance on having interpreters for defendants, which states:

“If a defendant requires an interpreter to interpret the proceedings, it is the responsibility of the court to arrange for the attendance and payment of an independent interpreter. See Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 section 19(3)(b) (Archbold 6-39). Where there is more than one defendant, each should have a separate interpreter.

A plea is uninformed if the defendant has not fully understood the nature of the case to which he is pleading because of his inadequate understanding of the language and because of the inadequate explanation given by his legal representative See Cuscani v UK (2002 All ER (D) 139 (Sep).”

I… I’ve just had a vision of the future! I can see… I can see the Court of Appeal, absolutely snowed under by all the appeals under ‘uninformed plea’ arguments. Long, expensive, unprofitable appeals. Small problems turning into big problems, anyone?

Truly, I am a prophet.

But to be fair, Capita (or ‘Crapita’ as they’re known to the Private Eye) are no stranger to problems, so even the deluge of appeals may not be enough to shake Applied and their backers.

Geoffrey Buckingham, the Chairman of the Association of Court and Police Interpreters, has written dozens of letters (some of which I’ve seen, and he presents a very good case – well, he would) to the Minister for Justice, to Capita, to Applied, to just about everyone and has campaigned against the MOJ contract, and earlier this month he delivered a damning speech about the situation for a ‘Training for the Future’ workshop in Helsinki, where he systematically pulled apart the MOJ’s and Applied’s mistakes. Read it, it’s a good speech. He finished by saying that if you don’t speak English, there will be no justice for you in the UK.

For my part, I understand English perfectly. I just don’t always understand it very well when it’s spoken at me, especially across an echoey court from 20 feet away. One of these days, someone might push me too far with daft questions about whether I can drive or whether I can read, and I’m going to give them a slap.

I almost certainly won’t understand my rights when they’re read to me as I’m arrested, which in itself was enough for a case against a deaf man to be thrown out a few months ago. Imagine I get dragged into a court. Most decent interpreters, and this includes Sign Language interpreters, won’t touch Applied with a bargepole. Most likely, I’ll end up with a ‘CSW’ with basic level one BSL. Will I understand the slightest thing? Unlikely.

Justice served? It won’t matter. If I’m found not guilty or the case is dismissed due to crap interpreting, I’ll skip away scot-free while blogging about the uselessness of the interpreter.

If I’m found guilty, I’ll just appeal on the grounds of the useless interpreter, then claim compensation. It’s win-win.

Now think of all the defendants that have been let down by Applied, which according to their own figures runs into the thousands. How many solicitors will start to think along the same lines?

Someone better tell the Court of Appeal to get ready.


Letter to Ofsted

Dear Ofsted,

Where do I start? I am a deaf BSL user, and until two days ago, I appreciated that Ofsted has a difficult job to do, but I hoped they were doing it competently. Then I saw Ofsted’s online consultation documents for ‘Inspection of adoption support agencies’ and today, I saw the consultation documents for ‘Inspection of local authority voluntary adoption agencies’. Specifically, I refer to the ‘BSL-based symbols’ ‘translation’ of the documents.

I wish to complain – strongly – about these ‘BSL-based’ documents, on several grounds.

British Sign Language is a language in its own right, with a clear grammatical structure, and was formally recognised as a language of the United Kingdom in March 2003. It continues to be the subject of linguistic research, and all of this research verifies that it is a complete language, with all the attendant features.

It is a living, breathing, beautiful language, that relies on movement, handshapes, context, facial expression, eyegaze, non-manual features, etc and has been used to create poetry and translate Shakespeare.

Reducing it to cartoons for the purposes of serious consultation documents – indeed for any purpose – is incredible. The fact that it is a government agency doing so, eight years after the formal recognition of BSL, is stunning. These cartoons are vague, and bear little relation to the signs they represent, and one or two are borderline offensive, for example the pictogram for ‘about’ on page 5 of the ‘BSL-based’ PDF of ‘Inspection of adoption support agencies’ looks like the sign for ‘camp’ or in the hands of less nice people, ‘poof’. The pictogram for ‘should’ on the same page looks like ‘damn’.

I would be very interested to know whose idea it was to reduce a full, complete language to a few drawings, when there are any number of interpreting / translation agencies and freelance BSL interpreters out there who could have translated this document for Ofsted into complete, proper BSL, and the video file of the translation put on the website.

Does Ofsted really have such a low opinion of the mental capacity of children and young people who use BSL as a first language? I refer here to the wide discrepancy between the level of language used in the word document explaining the consultation, which according to the data at the bottom of the first page, is aimed at 0-17 age group, and the ‘BSL-based’ translation, supposedly aimed at the same age group. I can only imagine that the word document was aimed at 0-17 year olds, whilst the ‘BSL-based’ document was aimed at 0-17 months. For the record, deafness is not a learning disability, it is if anything a sensory disability. Deafness has no effect on mental capacity, and I can name several deaf people who hold Ph.Ds, and I myself am currently studying an MA.

The closest analogy I can find for how ridiculous these ‘BSL-based’ documents are would be if I started writing this email completely phonetically.

Fff          Orr         Eks         arm        pul          duh        sss          me         rrr           eye         t              een        ev     err          eee        w            er           d             ll             eye         ke           th           ees         ay           d             u      too        arn         der         sss          tah         nn           dd?

Breaking down a complete sentence into separate little cartoonish blocks that will in and of themselves need explaining when it is possible to have a full and complete BSL translation rendered is self-defeating and unnecessary.

On’s own website, it states:

“Makaton is designed to help hearing people with learning or communication difficulties.  It uses signs and symbols, with speech, in spoken word order.

BSL is the language of the deaf community in the UK.  It is a naturally evolving language, with its own grammar, word order and has regional variations.”

BSL cannot be treated like Makaton, and in fact Sign Languages already have their own recognised system of notation, colloquially called ‘Stokoe Notation’ after the inventor; a phonemic system that records handshapes, orientation of the handshape and direction of movement of the hand/s. The results look rather like WingDings font, and would be completely incomprehensible to those who do not have the appropriate linguistic background. The idea of using these cartoons to express a complex language should have been laughed out of the room.

Furthermore, quite apart from the issues of breaking down a complete sentence into separate cartoons – and I notice that Ofsted has also used picture symbols that bear no relation to any sign whatsoever in their ‘BSL-based’ documents – and the issue of how simple Ofsted apparently believes those who use BSL need information to be, exactly how was a child or young person responding to this document supposed to do so? By simply circling a pictogram or asking an adult to help them write further responses? (page 10) Does this mean that there was no option for those who use BSL to respond in BSL i.e. by way of recording themselves replying in BSL? Or were they to rely on English when, as the document seemingly presumes, English is not their strongest language? Or were they to draw their own cartoons by way of a response? I would be fascinated to know if anyone did in fact use these ‘BSL-based’ documents, and what they thought of them.

In summary, I would like very much to know why Ofsted, a government agency, thought it would be appropriate to use cartoons to express complex concepts and call it ‘BSL-based’, when the results bear little to no relation to BSL at all, and why this approach was chosen over simply having the document translated into BSL.

Was any agency that represents the interests of deaf people such as the British Deaf Association or Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) or any member of the deaf community consulted before these ‘BSL-based’ documents were produced? I would be very surprised, indeed astonished if they were, and if so, please can you let me know who it was?

Thank you for your time in reading this, I look forward  to a reply.


Donna Williams

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?


Petition for Equal Marriage
Bible quotations from

HSBC – Here, they Say, Be Clowns

Breaking news – HSBC have finally sent me a proper letter, as opposed to “we are still investigating your claims. Thank you for your patience”, of which I now have three. No, this was a proper letter, that pretty much agreed with everything I said in my complaint (and in my response to their paltry offer of £15 in compensation for completely winding me up so much it took me two hours to calm down) and said how sorry they were, that their service had fallen below standards, and that steps had been taken so that it wouldn’t happen again. Etc. Etc.

It also offered me a slightly improved offer of compensation, though not by much, and certainly nowhere near the fee that the Financial Ombudsman would charge HSBC were I to take my complaint to them (that’s right HSBC, I know how much. When I said I’d taken legal advice, did you think I was bluffing?), and frankly I’m minded to go to the Financial Ombudsman out of spite.

Except the letter also mentions ‘a gift’ to help make up for the all the inconvenience. Ooh, a gift, as well as a small cheque? Oh HSBC, you are too generous. Whatever could it be? An iPad 2? I can dream.

The letter then asks me to call between Mon – Thurs between 9am – 2pm in order to discuss this mysterious gift. So I called them at 11.30 this morning. It’s wednesday. I had my notes with me, and was ready for some negotiating. Only to be told the person who wrote the letter is away from the office, and won’t be back til Friday.

There’s a point at which one has to recognise the ridiculousness of the situation and laugh.

I told HSBC that I’m deaf, and can’t take phone calls. What happened? The marketing dept phoned me, the credit card people phoned me (piss off, I paid it off for a reason) and the fraud detection people phoned me.

In frustration, I had them put a note on my file not to call me, ever. What happened? They called me again! Finally, I took my mobile number away from them altogether.

Then there was the ‘typetalk incident’ which sparked all this complaint business, and we know how that’s going. Verbal consent, my foot.

Their first response to my initial complaint was mis-spelled, vaguely patronising, ignored my references to the Equality Act and threats, and offered me £15 for the inconvenience. It poured petrol on the fire.

Then I went into a HSBC branch a few weeks ago to ask them to close my account and send the money to my new accounts at an internet bank, of which I had two. I told them how much I wanted to transfer to each account. What happened? All the money ended up in one account so I had nothing in my new current account. Ha ha. HSBC, you’re so funny.

Then this. Please call us between Mon – Thurs, and they’re not in til Fri. I’m not even angry or even that annoyed. I’ve simply reached a point where nothing that HSBC or its representatives does surprises me anymore. Hell, it makes me laugh. Frankly, I should probably just write a long missive, detailing everything HSBC has done to annoy me, all the way up to the present day, send it to the Financial Ombudsman and see how much they think it’s all worth. I bet it’s more than a small cheque and ‘a gift’.

Then again, perhaps I’m being unfair. I don’t know what this ‘gift’ is yet. I have until Friday to speculate. Please be an iPad 2. Please be an iPad 2…

HSBC – Here, they Say, Be Clowns.

Deafland – where the magic happens!

I have a nagging concern. I have not yet reached my 30s, never mind my 60s, and yet I can identify certain elements of grumpiness creeping into my everyday personality. Naturally, of course, I want to retain my youthful hue for as long as possible, yet I catch myself having very uncharitable thoughts and frankly, in some ways, I feel jaded.

It’s not just the receptionists who don’t look at me to impart information. It’s not just the unanswered emails / messages / comment boxes. It’s not just the pithy responses I get from theatres when I bring up their access issues – the usual excuse being of course, lack of money. It’s not just the looks I get when I don’t understand something – am I stupid / special / just being difficult? It’s not the general lack of deaf awareness that seems prevalent in every corner of the UK. It’s not just the hearing world’s obsession with the telephone. It’s not just the fact that I have to organise my life several weeks in advance so I can make sure of interpreters. It’s not just that a lot of people don’t seem to understand this, and happily change academic commitments at the last minute. It’s not just the government crap. It’s not just the lack of patience some people seem to have.

It’s everything. And heaven help me, I’m getting grumpy. Maybe I just need a holiday. I propose the creation of a new holiday park – Deafland. A counterpart to Disneyland, except it’ll be completely accessible. Tannoys will be crystal clear, and accompanied at all times by matching messages on big visual screens. Staff will be helpful, polite, easy to lipread and trained to at least level three BSL. Bookings will be made via an online service – a simple one, that works. Customer queries will be dealt with via email or instant messenger. Big visual displays of fireworks, with heavy bass music and dancers. All hotel TVs will have subtitles and wifi will come as standard. Rides will be terrifying, with all safety information printed and signed. Cartoon characters in suits will either be able to sign or have ready-made notes, or accompanied by an appropriately-dressed interpreter. Tinkly music that sounds like my hearing-aids’ feedback will be banned. If I can get some Doctor Who villains to wander around as well, so much the better.

Deafland – where the magic happens!

A world without phones…

An impossible dream perhaps, but who said dreams had to be achievable? I’ll tell you my impossible dream – a world in which phones are NOT the only method of communication.

In this world, box offices have email addresses that actually reply within say, five days. Ditto support services, government departments, businesses and individuals – everyone, in fact, should offer a viable alternative to the ever-present telephone number. Be it email, text, fax, skywriting co-ordinates, I don’t care.

I had thought that with the advent of emails, broadband, and messenger, the hearing might begin to relinquish their dependence on the landline. Apparently not. Odd really, when you consider that 9 million people in the UK have some form of deafness or hearing loss, that this situation has been put up with for so long.

All these businesses / companies / theatres / depts are missing a trick – sort it out, people! In the meantime, I shall continue to dream. And in case dreaming doesn’t work, I shall continue to send peevish, cajoling and in some cases just plain complaining emails to those I see as the worst offenders. Sometimes the world needs a little encouragement to change.

Now if only they’d reply to their emails…

NHS Appointnent lines – Patient choice?

I have been referred to a consultant based at a hospital in Bristol. Cue the merry-go-round. I received a letter informing me that I should call a number to arrange a ‘mutually convenient time’ for the appointment, but that if I failed to call, I would be taken off the list. So I called. And called. And called. Every time I got a message saying that I should leave my name, number and patient ID and they would call me back. I’m deaf. I’m using text term on my computer just to place this call. I’ve no idea how to receive calls on this thing, or even if it can. Just pick up the phone, damn you. In the end, it took five days and several calls at various times of the day before I finally reached a real person. We arranged a time. Friday 10th September. Fine.

A few days later, I receive a letter saying that they have had to change the appointment time, and it is now on Thursday 9th Sept. What was the point of all that, then?

I HATE THE NHS APPOINTMENTS SYSTEM. Just send me a letter and I’ll let you know if it’s not convenient. What was wrong with that system? Why make it so complicated and un-deaf-friendly? If this was done in the name of patient convenience then I’m sorry to say…

You’ve failed.