Tag Archives: access

The BBC are treating me like a second class Doctor Who fan

(originally published on the Limping Chicken)

Recently, there was a post on Pesky People, ‘Silence has fallen at the BBC’ written by a fellow Doctor Who fan, describing their troubles with trying to get a ticket to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Celebration Convention. It’s quite the saga, it goes on for several blog posts, with various back and forth responses between Samantha and the BBC. But in short, the BBC have been so bloody-minded and inaccessible that they are causing a lifelong fan of the show to fall out of love with it.

Look at her pics. She is totally dedicated. This is the kind of fan that the BBC should be bending over backwards to accommodate, not driving away.

Sadly though, the Beeb seem not to share this view. No doubt they would much prefer it if she disappeared quietly into the ether and stopped making a fuss. That’s certainly been my impression from my dealings with the BBC when it comes to Doctor Who.

In short, the BBC is treating deaf and disabled Whovians like second class Doctor Who fans. And I don’t appreciate it. Not one bit.

Sometimes, though, the BBC can get it right. Check out this interview between Alison (director of Pesky People) and Samantha herself, at ‘Disability meets Digital’ in March, where they discuss the issues they’ve had with Doctor Who events, but when the BBC gets it right, they can get it really right. At 11 mins 30, they discuss the Doctor Who Theatre Experience, which not only had well-trained actors, they even had a set of actors who could use BSL, so if a deaf person came, they could sign the entire performance.

Samantha really hits it on the head when she says that “it really shows what really can be achieved when the will is there” (13.50). Unfortunately, when it comes to certain areas of the Doctor Who franchise, that will seems to be entirely absent.

First, let’s establish my Doctor Who fan credentials; this is my morning coffee cup…

Dr who cup

This is me at the Doctor Who exhibition at Land’s End a few years ago…

Me + TARDIS

This is my official bag from the convention in Cardiff last year, which still hangs proudly in my room…

Dr Who bag

Anyone remember the BSL interpreter on stage for the cast panel? And the make-up workshop? That was me and my good friend in the front row; I was the one mainlining Mentos to stay awake; I’d just got back from America two days before and was horrendously jetlagged. Dragging myself out of bed that morning, I felt like I was dragging myself out of a coma. I still made it. I had to eat a lot of Mentos to get through the day, but I made it.

Me and Ood Dr Who Convention

That’s how much I love Doctor Who.

I haven’t even got to my DVD collection (growing steadily as Amazon keeps telling me when Doctor Who DVDs are on special offer. Oh Amazon, you know me too well) or my various toys. Or my favourite T-shirt with a Dalek silhouette print. Or my planned sci-fi themed fancy dress birthday party in November, where I will most likely be a Doctor.

In summary, I really love Doctor Who.

So imagine my outrage when last year, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, ‘The Snowmen’ wasn’t subtitled on iPlayer. I missed the original broadcast as I was staying with friends and their TV signal was buggered. I tried threatening them, but it didn’t work. I had my heart set on watching the special on iPlayer that night, and I wasn’t prepared to listen to any excuses about the wifi and how long it would take to download; in the end, it took over three hours. Very kind of them to invite me over and everything. Love you, guys.

It wasn’t subtitled. It wasn’t bleeding subtitled!

Every day and night I went back to check. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Have you ever seen a junkie that can see a fix; it’s so close they can smell it and touch it, but someone keeps dangling it just out of reach? For me, that someone was the BBC. Eventually, after four long days, the BBC deigned to subtitle the Christmas Special of one of their most popular shows of all time. By that point, I was like this:

smashed-computer

I tried contacting them, believe me. I sent them constant error reports, I emailed them, nothing. For four days, nothing. And then eventually, a few days later, a pathetic email apologising for the inconvenience. The inconvenience? Did they have any idea of what they’d done? That they had effectively withheld a stonking episode from me for days, whilst the hearing population could watch it at any time? Discrimination. I had to watch the special another few times before I calmed down. Ah, the power of the fix…

But this is not what’s got me wound up. This was just one incident in a long line. The two prequels to The Snowmen, The Great Detective and Madame Vastra Investigates, were not subtitled.

I commented on the videos on YouTube and emailed the webmaster on the BBC official Doctor Who website, to no avail. I got zero reply. I found this incredibly annoying on several levels, but mainly that these were prequels intended to tantalise fans, to whet their appetites. All they did for me taunt me; that here was an official canon Doctor Who clip, possibly filled with verbal clues, that I could not access. I had no idea what any of them were saying.

This wasn’t the first time the BBC had pulled this stunt. When they released a prequel for The Big Bang, with Rory tearfully talking to Amy’s lifeless form, that wasn’t subtitled either. I tweeted and commented on that occasion too, and got nothing. In fact, a big fat nothing has been the BBC’s M.O. thus far.

It gets worse. This is the BBC official Doctor Who website. Click on ‘clips’. Click on a clip. Any clip. Pick one. It doesn’t matter which you pick, because not a goddamned one is subtitled. I’m sure ‘Songtaran Carols’ is funny as hell, but to me, without subtitles, it’s worse than meaningless. This has been a source of frustration for a while, and believe me I have tried everything I can think of to attract the BBC’s attention to this.

I left comments (under DeafFirefly) on YouTube videos linked to the Doctor Who website, with no reply, I used the Doctor Who website contact form to send a message to the webmaster, twice, with no reply, I emailed the BBC accessibility team at accessibilityteam@bbc.co.uk twice, with no reply, and most recently, I went through a phase where I tweeted the official @bbcdoctorwho account every day for two weeks to complain about the lack of subtitles, with no reply, and at one point comparing the @bbdoctorwho overseers to Tivolians (A reference to a species famed for their cowardice and lack of will) again with no reply. Every single attempt I have made to raise this issue has been totally ignored.

In the end, I begged a kind geek, Chakoteya, who does transcripts of Doctor Who episodes voluntarily, to do transcripts for the prequels for me. This she did and I thank her wholeheartedly, it really helped, at least now I knew what they were saying. She has continued to do transcripts for canon prequels, they’re available with all her other transcripts in episode order. Thanks Chakoteya! Really, really appreciate it.

In all honesty, though, it’s not the same as watching a clip with subtitles; with a transcript one has to either remember the dialogue while watching the clip and match it to any visible lip movements (panning shots, ha!) or flick constantly back and forth between transcript and clip, making a supposedly enjoyable experience hard work.

It would be much easier to watch a subtitled clip and thus enjoy full and equal access to what the hearing Doctor Who fans are getting. This is the BBC’s job. Why am I having to ask kind people to do transcripts for me when the BBC surely has enough resources at its disposal to provide access themselves? How unreasonable is it to expect the BBC’s biggest internationally-selling show to subtitle a few videos?

(*cough* Equality Act, reasonable adjustments *cough*)

In sticking it to loyal fans like this, not only is the BBC doing deaf and HOH Doctor Who fans and themselves a great disservice, they’re also flouting Ofcom’s Codes on Television Access Services, and their own policies on accessibility. The BBC accessibility policy even includes this great piece of lip service:

“This is an area of importance for the BBC. In keeping with our public-service remit, and our obligations under the Equality Act, we are committed to ensuring that BBC digital services are as accessible to disabled and elderly people as reasonably possible. We aim for a consistently high level of usability for our entire audience across all of our websites, following best-practice accessibility guidelines. We engage with disabled, non-disabled and elderly people throughout website development to fully understand user requirements and ensure we produce sites that meet these.”

As lip service is indeed all it is.

I’ve had a look at BBC accessibility help and found this page that proudly boasts that among other shows, online content for Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, both Doctor Who spin-offs, are subtitled. Irony, anyone?

You think this post is long? You should see the formal complaint that I’ve written, for the attention of the BBC Trust. It goes to three pages, which I managed to achieve by shuffling the margins a little to squeeze it all in. Three chock-full pages of quotes from BBC access policy, subtitling guidelines, codes of practice and Ofcom. Let’s see them ignore that.

I really did not want to have to do this. I tried all the methods I could think to contact the BBC so we could sort it out like reasonable people. But that’s impossible when one side of the dialogue is apparently a brick wall.

I did not want to have to write a formal complaint, quote the BBC’s own policies at them, nor tell them that if I do not receive a satisfactory response within 10 days, my next step is a formal complaint to Ofcom and to explore other options. Not to my favourite show. Look what they made me do.

Whilst I’m not yet falling out of love with Doctor Who, the BBC are severely testing my patience.

I love Doctor Who, but I really don’t like being treated like a second class Doctor Who fan.

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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?

No.

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.

Laugh or Cry?

Sometimes all we can do is point and laugh.

If we didn’t, we’d weep for the ignorance of those whose job it is (supposedly) to know what they’re talking about.

Yesterday, this came to my attention.

Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, produced a consultation document aimed at children and young people to give them a say in how Ofsted inspects Adoption Support Agencies.

So far, so good.

Then they produced a BSL-based version. Jolly good. Was it a video produced by Remark!, scripted by Ofsted? Was it a video of Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman translating the document to the tune of humming guitars? Was it a video of the consultation document lovingly translated into sign language poetry by yours truly? No.

It was cartoons.

No word of a lie, they attempted to translate the consultation document into cartoons, and called it BSL-based. Look at it.

In case it’s not clear why this is so tragi-comic, let me explain. British Sign Language is a living, breathing language, relying as much on movement as it does on ‘gestures’. Pictures – or cartoons – of signs next to each other don’t really mean much without context – or movement. It’s like writing down a sentence phonetically in the belief that this will help someone to understand it.

Bee     Ess     Ell     Iz     Ay     Bee     Yoo     Tee     Foo     Lah     Nnn     Gwa     Jjj

Thee     sss     Iz     Ahh     Nnn     Eeen     sss     Arr     lll     T

Or you could just SAY it. Get someone to translate the document into proper BSL and tape it. Tape it!

Without movement and context, those cartoons could mean anything. If, as this document apparently presumes, the respondents’ English is not that good, what are the cartoons meant to express? They’re not exactly clear. On page 5, ‘should’ looks like ‘damn’, ‘what’ could be ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘sky’, ‘god’, ‘up’ ‘ travelling’ – all BSL signs that use an index pointed upwards, and the cartoon for ‘about’ looks nothing like ‘about’ and in fact comes perilously close to looking like the sign for ‘camp’ or, in the hands of not-so-nice people, ‘poof’.

Is that what Ofsted is aiming for? Cartoons that look like any sign that uses that handshape, littered with potentially offensive signs? Well, congratulations. Mission accomplished.

I mean, whose idea was this?

Look at the age group they’re aiming for. Bottom of the first page. 0-17. It’s like they’ve assumed that a 17-year-old BSL user will have the same level of understanding as an infant. On behalf of teenage BSL users everywhere, consider me fucking patronised.

Are they sure they don’t mean 0 – 17 months? Compare the level of language in the ‘BSL-based’ document with the word document accompanying it. You’ll see what I mean.

And again with the patronisation on page 10. “If there is anything more you wish to say, please ask an adult to help you.” What was the age group again? 0 – 17?

They’ve clearly allowed for those children and young people with communication and learning difficulties with the Makaton, picture communication symbols and Widgit alternatives, and brilliant. Good for them. Very inclusive. Where they went wrong was thinking they could treat BSL in the same way.

Deafness is not a learning disability. BSL is a beautiful language, highly expressive, a language of poetry and creativity; we just had a Shakespeare play translated into BSL and put on at The Globe for Globe to Globe, the multi-language Shakespeare festival to rave reviews for pity’s sake.

Cartoons?

If one is aware enough to put the cartoons in the correct BSL grammatical order, then one should have enough awareness to know that BSL is not just handshapes, it’s movement and eyegaze and facial expression and direction and context.

Whose idea was this?

What was wrong with just making a proper BSL version? Just get someone to sign it properly. That way, you could ensure that BSL users would have a good chance of understanding it, instead of patronising them with cartoons that are vague enough that an adult will probably have to explain the cartoons anyway, defeating the purpose of having the bloody cartoons in the first place. Just… do it properly!

Was it too much effort? Did it cost too much to pay someone to sign it, someone to film it, and put it in a file on their website? Was it just easier to draw some cartoons? Do they really have such a low opinion and expectation of BSL users? Why couldn’t they just have it signed PROPERLY?

I need to stop now. My head is about to explode.

 

P.S. Let’s all write letters like this one and let them know our views on their ‘consultation document’…

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.

The Birds! The Birds!

So I’ve been alluding to a play that I’m in later this year. I haven’t revealed much, partly because I’ve not known much myself, but last Friday and Saturday I was at a long development weekend with Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School. I can now reveal that…

It’s called The Birds, based on a comedy by the same name by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes (and not the film by Alfred Hitchcock, in case anyone was worried). The original has the birds of the title rebelling against the evil humans who catch, torture and kill birds by creating their own city in the sky and blocking all messages to heaven, thus cutting off communication with the gods and holding humanity to ransom until their demands – generally, better treatment – are met.

Given the parallels, it probably comes as no surprise that it’s being adapted with the disabled in mind. Last Friday I saw a first draft of the script written by writer / director Cheryl Martin with (unnecessary I thought) apologies to Aristophanes; it was funny, imaginative and occasionally scathing! The read through was fun, as were the development workshops, and Cheryl’s going to revise and develop the script some more now. Certain references will probably be taken out or amended on the basis that no-one wants to be sued. It’d be great publicity but…

Actually on the other hand, maybe we should keep them in. A bit of publicity is what we need right now! Tickets have gone on sale, it’s on at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff on the 11th and 12th May; if you feel like watching a surreal, feathery subversive take on the modern world and treatment of the poor birdies / disabled, this is for you!

The theatre is accessible, guide and hearing dogs are welcome, tickets are bookable online, and for the play we’re going to have at least basics of script projected on screens all around the theatre, a BSL interpreter will be signing the whole thing, I’ll be doing visual poetry, and the director – Cheryl – has already started considering where it’s all going to fit in in terms of access and artistic flair.

Oh, if only more directors and theatres could be like that. I’m hoping this play can be held up as an example of how full access to theatre can and should be done.

We even have a great designer on board who’s taken our measurements and promised to come up with some fantastic bird costumes, so if for nothing else, come along to see me and various talented malcontents dressed up and having fun in our featheriest, birdiest finest!

And possibly saying litigious things 🙂

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.

Access for all?

The ability to adapt is a very human characteristic, and us deafies are no exception. Thanks to the various barriers thrown at us, we often have to think up ways to get around them. I have a small example – last night I attempted to use my shiny new Subtitles app, which I frothed about yesterday, to watch Season One of Sanctuary, a TV series.

It was rubbish. Turns out; it’s great for films, not so good for TV series made a few years ago. It was all over the place, incomplete, misspelled and just… rubbish. But I was not about to be thwarted when I was so close to finding out what actually happened in the first series of Sanctuary. I tried having a look at online subtitle download sites, but was defeated by technical jargon which seemed to rely on me having downloaded the thing to watch, rather than watching it on a DVD.

So I went old-school. I used my iPad to find online transcripts of the show, found an episode guide with full transcripts, matched transcript to episode and went on a Sanctuary binge.

It was a little more effort than the subtitles app, but it worked. I had to keep looking from iPad screen to laptop screen, but positioning iPad just so on my laptop keyboard allowed me to flick the transcript onwards and read it quickly before darting back to screen. It required a little more concentration, and it helped to skim the transcript before watching the episode and using said transcript, but the episodes made sense and I got all the quick-witted one-liners, which I would surely have missed without this wonderful toy.

However, just because I’ve managed to find a way around the woeful lack of subtitles on some DVDs doesn’t give production and distribution companies a free pass. I’ve been forced to adapt by the lack of access; how much easier would it be for me and for millions of people who for various reasons have trouble following speech if all DVDs had subtitles? Not everyone has a laptop and an iPad. Not everyone has a wi-fi connection. But everyone should be able to access mainstream entertainment.

What made the lack of subtitles on the Sanctuary Season One region 2 DVD even more bitterly disappointing is that the lead actress and executive producer of the show, Amanda Tapping, a woman whose work I really admire, is a patron of Hearing Dogs for the Deaf and in response to an online chat question revealed she had spent a summer learning to sign for a role in a production of ‘Children of a Lesser God’.

If even a DVD of a show exec produced by someone with such deaf awareness pedigree doesn’t have subtitles, what hope is there? I did email the UK distributors to ask about the lack of subtitles but got only platitudes back.

Me, I’d make it a law that all DVDs distributed in UK have to have subtitles and audio description, to guarantee access for anyone who wants to watch them. There are roughly 9 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, and roughly 2 million with sight loss, so it’s not like there isn’t a market. If anything, it’s got to be cost-effective in terms of increased distribution. In fact, I wonder if there may be a case under the Equality Act 2010…