Tag Archives: sign language

When people are mean…

I’ve had a variety of responses to my ‘shit hearing people say…’ blogs, mostly positive I’m happy and somewhat relieved to say, whether sharing my sentiments, adding their own ‘shit they say’ or joining in the humour, as indeed I am actually trying to be funny-yet-educational with most of my mental responses; unleashing my sarcasm on the various idiotic statements / questions I’ve had to deal with, so that people might laugh and / or make a mental note not to say that to any deaf person they meet. 

One or two people have pointed out though, that my comments can be taken negatively. This is true, though they’re not (usually) intended that way; they’re just expressions of the internalised frustration and disbelief some of these comments cause. One person, though, asked:

“Do you think when hearing people say those types of comments… they’re actually trying to be mean?”

I can honestly say no. No, not at all. I’m fully aware that more often than not, silly comments or questions are born entirely of lack of thought or awareness. They’re merely annoying; in the same way that running your fingers down a blackboard and feeling your teeth go on edge is annoying.

When people are actually trying to be mean, it’s much more than annoying. It’s demoralising, disempowering, and bloody infuriating.

People are being mean when:

They pull silly faces and stick their tongue out while saying “can you understand this?”

They hide their lips behind their hand and demand to know what they just said. For extra points, one person who did this then refused to believe I couldn’t do it because I’m totally reliant on lip-reading with non-signers, because ‘you speak so well’. Basically called me a liar and accused me of playing for sympathy.

They flick my hearing-aid with a finger, then laugh as I scramble to save it from dropping on the floor.

They treat me like I’m completely stupid when they realise I’m deaf. I’m considering carrying around my newly-minted MA certificate in order to prevent this in future.

They hoot or yell directly into my hearing-aid, overloading the microphone and electronics and causing me to wince and / or jump; then laugh. Yeah, that’s really funny.

They wave their hands and contort their faces in a very mocking way, not unlike a certain ‘comedy sketch’ broadcast by Saturday Night Live ripping off Lydia Callis, the ASL terp made famous by terping for Mayor Bloomberg during Hurricane Sandy (and kudos to New York for providing a terp for NY’s many deaf residents!). This is an activity usually conducted by drunks. (And for extra points in meanness, compare deaf women to dogs – watch the clip. It’s not just the ‘interpreter’; they all piled on).

They ask if I plan to have children, then suggest I might be irresponsible to pass on my genes when I say I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it.

They say I shouldn’t be driving because I’m deaf (actually, deaf people are statistically no more likely to have accidents, thank you very much) and ask how I know when emergency vehicles are coming. Um, bright blue flashing lights? Plus, they tend to be painted in bright, attention-getting colours. They’re kind of hard to miss. That said, I did nearly swallow my tongue once when I was overtaken by a police car doing about 100mph while I was trundling along at 30 on a quiet road. But that was hardly my fault, by the time I knew they were there, they were half a mile away. That must have been some emergency.

They laugh patronisingly when I misunderstand something and refuse to repeat it.

They say ‘What? What? What?’, making me repeat something over and over, until I lose confidence that I’m saying the bloody word right, before dissolving into hysterical giggles.

They roll their eyes every time I miss something. Sometimes, it’s a martyred sigh, as if I’ve been put on this Earth for one reason only; to test their patience and fortitude. (Learn sign language then, if talking to me is so difficult, or if you can’t be bothered with that, write it down. It’s not rocket science. You’re only making it difficult for yourself and blaming me).

Once upon a time, when I was still a young, nervous deaf person finding their way in the world, on a train back home from Uni, I was peacefully reading a book (one of Terry Pratchett’s, so I was fully immersed) when the train stopped at Birmingham New Street. Since this wasn’t my stop, I continued reading my book.

Suddenly, there was a massive blow to my shoulder, knocking me into the window next to me. In shock, I looked up and there was a man, his fist raised, demanding that I get out of ‘his seat’. Utterly stunned, and struck dumb, I shakily gathered my things and stood up. As I shuffled out of the seat, I managed to find my voice and say: ‘You know, I’m DEAF. A tap on the shoulder is FINE.” Lame I know, but it was the best I could come up with. He refused to look me in the eyes.

Turning around, I found that the entire carriage was watching the scene and felt like a rabbit being pinned by many headlights. Thinking it couldn’t get any worse, I started to shuffle down the aisle, head bowed.

Then, all of a sudden, seats were free. People invited me to sit next to them (seriously, how often does that happen on British transport?) or offered me their own seats. So many people rushed to offer me a seat, it was almost like being royalty. Heavily pregnant royalty. I was suddenly the most popular person in the carriage, while the man slunk into ‘his seat’ and sat looking out of the window to avoid the stares.

I ended up sitting next to a woman who said darkly: “there are ways and means of doing things.” I got the impression that what had horrified the carriage wasn’t the blatant assault per se, but that the man hadn’t attempted to get me out of his seat more politely. How very British.

If this happened to me today, I’d be texting 80999 like crazy to have the guy arrested. But at the time, there was no 80999 and either I didn’t have enough confidence to flag down the train manager or was too much in shock to think of doing so, I’m not sure which. But so help me, no-one is getting away with doing that again. 

Add to this all the times that I have been pushed aside or given filthy looks for not moving out of the way when I simply didn’t hear ‘excuse me’. True enough, they’re not being mean because they know I’m deaf, but indirectly it is because I’m deaf. And they apparently can’t see, or be bothered to think to look for, my bright blue earmoulds and goth-black hearing-aids.

This is what happens when people are being mean. Luckily, these types of incidents, where I have to deal with real ignorance and hostility, are few and far between. I’ve only been physically assaulted once (I’m choosing not to count all the times of being pushed aside; those didn’t leave a mark – both on my skin and on my confidence in public spaces) and I steer clear of obvious drunk muppets when I’m out.

I’m happy to say that the vast majority of the hearing people that I have met have been nice, if maybe sometimes a bit clueless. I can put up with occasional daft comments (though I may make a note of them for future blog posts…) because I know that far more often than not, it’s not intended to offend. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, but it’s unintentional, so I try to deal with those with patience, whatever my mental musings or gripings might be.

But I do wish people wouldn’t be mean. It makes me mad.

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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!

Signing Hands Across The Water!

Well it’s about damn time.

It’s been a little while since I updated this blog, and a very surreal few weeks. I know we’d been building up to it for months now, but there’s a big difference between planning and fretting and worrying… and actually going to Heathrow and boarding a plane.

There are various excuses I can offer for not updating for a week after I arrived back on British shores, from jet-lag to attending a Dr Who Convention on the Sunday (having landed on the Friday and still adjusting to British time – madness but isn’t madness fun?) to a post-trip sleepy blues downer for a couple of days, to attending Uni on the Weds, and running various catching-up with real-life errands for the last couple of days before finally finding a nice quiet weekend morning in which to draft my thoughts on the festival. Actually that does sound quite reasonable doesn’t it?

And not at all like not wanting to commit my thoughts on the festival to permanent record, thus drawing a line under it and moving on to the next thing. I don’t want to do that. I want to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS from the convention props display (damn, a missed opportunity there, if only I hadn’t been half-asleep) and go back and do it again. And again. And again. Hell, you’ll have to call the Doctor to help me get out of the time loop I’ll have accidentally trapped myself in.

Signing Hands Across the Water was AMAZING. I still can’t believe how lucky I was to share a roof with five other sign language poets, plan a workshop with them, do said workshop, and perform alongside them. How did that happen? Pinch me!

Thanks must surely go to everyone who organised it, I know it wasn’t all done with me in mind, but I had an absolutely incredible time and I hope everyone who was involved with, or came to watch, the festival did too. See the Signing Hands Across the Water website for a more objective view of events and a more complete list of people who deserve thanks!

And don’t forget the facebook page for some cool pics, watch out for that crazed grin 🙂

Swarthmore College was like no college I’ve ever seen. The college grounds seemed to be sharing civil-war era buildings and houses with Scott Arboretum and an amazing number of plants and trees, including cherry blossom trees that had already started to flower in the unseasonable warmth of Pennsylvania. Did I mention the lovely weather? And the beautiful buildings and grounds?

The guesthouse, ooh. So posh. So posh. And it tickled me that I, as the slightest poet in terms of height and build, had been given the biggest room with the queen-size bed. Oh yes, please, thank you very much. And the food, mmm. And the company! We had a welcoming ‘feast’ for most of the people involved, the crew if you like, and what a great bunch of people. Poets, terps, a few organisers, some volunteers. Lovely, all!

We soon got down to work though, and Friday was the panel discussion, where all the poets discussed various aspects of sign language poetry, from the current situation in USA, UK and beyond, similarities and differences between different types of poetry, and issues of translation of sign language poems, which was something that came up a few times throughout the festival. It was a free exchange of ideas and thoughts, held in front of an audience, it was an interesting experience and very thought-provoking. Even if I did spend most of the time squinting off-stage at the ASL – BSL relay interpreters…

And let me take this moment to thank the interpreters who were terping between various languages, some ASL – BSL, some English to ASL etc., but they made sure everyone kept up, including myself. Anyone who thinks that ASL is similar to BSL or that it’s possible to understand foreign sign languages from the get-go just because one uses a sign language, I challenge them to give it a go and try to follow a fast-moving discussion of the finer points of poetry in full flow in a sign language other than their own. Especially when they’ve only just mastered “Hi… my name is F, no, D, D-O-N-N-A…” in said language.

But I don’t think I did too badly, and by the end of the weekend I was able to communicate in basic ASL and hold conversations in a sort of mix of BSL / ASL. For all that ASL and BSL are different, shared experience of signed languages does, I think, help a lot, and with patience and understanding people can communicate across different sign languages far more easily than they can spoken languages. And for the heavy discussions, read; the heavy lifting, we had a crack team of terps. Cheers guys!

Saturday was the workshop, we had about 30 participants, and it went really well – the morning was spent looking at various aspects of sign language poetry, each poet bringing an element of their own style to the mix, in my case a look at (split) identity that I had spent two months fretting about that was over in twenty minutes. But I like to think I made an impression nevertheless! The afternoon was spent helping the participants craft their own poems, some even agreed to have their poems recorded, and they can be seen on the website, great stuff! I hope all the participants took something away from the workshop, I know I did.

Saturday evening was the big show! It was amazing, from the group hug, to Richard Carter’s singer’s dramatic suicide, to Debbie Rennie’s powerful tale of murder, narrated by interpreter Debbie Taylor, to John Wilson’s visually funny cycle of life of a Christmas tree, to Flying Words Projects’ (Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner) incredible timing in a double act that must have taken ages to perfect. It was a visual feast of different styles of poetry, some visual, some heavy BSL or ASL, some with voiceover and some without. It really was something to see, and I’m glad – and privileged – to have been part of it!

I did three poems in the end, after changing my mind once or twice; I had originally intended to do three of my more ‘visual’ and therefore hopefully more ‘accessible’ poems, but after some thought-provoking discussions with the other poets about language and identity, I decided to perform ‘Who Am I?’. This was my first poem, originally created at a time when I was going through something of an identity crisis, and I wanted to perform this poem to show that identity is not always clear-cut or simple, and not all, indeed few deaf people are born with confident ‘deaf identities’ ready-formed. It all seemed to go down really well; I can honestly say I don’t think my ego has ever been stroked quite so much! The audience and atmosphere were brilliant, so positive and up, and I met some really great people. It was all over too soon!

The last event of the festival was a panel on the Sunday morning, where all the poets discussed their work, and a big Q & A session with the audience that expanded on translation issues, perceptions, how we got into poetry and how we create our poems. I really enjoyed this session, and again it was all over too soon!

For me, at the big performance, it was interesting to note that the ASL poets had some kind of voiceover, whilst all of us BSL poets had none. This and the discussions in the panels the previous and following day really opened my mind to the various issues surrounding the translation of sign language poems. Should they have a voiceover? If so, should it be a full rendering of the poem, line for line, word for sign, or just a spoken word here and there to back up a specific sign? Should the person speaking the lines be on the stage with the sign language poet, or sitting out of sight with the mic? If there is a voiceover, is it pure sign language poetry? Can a voiceover ever do justice to a poem? Can sign language poetry ever be written in English (or other written language) form and still have the same effect? I have all these questions whirling around, and I’m feeling inspired!

One thing that really brought the translation issue home to me though, was a friend telling me about a hearing friend of theirs, a member of staff at the college, who had attended the performance. This hearing person had never seen sign language before, ever, and gave a review of ‘My Cat’ that was completely unexpected. Now, ‘My Cat’ / ‘My New Cat’, is one of my more ‘visual’ poems, I had thought it was fairly accessible, but apparently not.

It seems that this hearing friend had liked my “poem about the cat” but had been confused because “it turned into a devil with horns and it had feathers, and then it died, but she seemed happy about it dying?” By the time my friend had finished recounting this hearing person’s interpretation of my poem, I was crying with laughter, and verging on hysterics.

As I said when I recovered, I like to be flexible about how people interpret my poems but that was more random than I’d ever imagined. Loved it! In fact, I may create a new poem based on the ‘devil cat’, watch out for a Halloween special!

For the record, the ‘devil cat’ was licking its own arse, the ‘horns’ being its legs akimbo, the ‘feathers’ was long fur, and the twitching was the cat dreaming, not its final, anguished death throes.

But when I’d calmed down and had a think about it, I wasn’t sure which I would prefer, a voiceover / translation that would give non-signing members of the audience a clue of what the poem was about, or risk them taking away interpretations of it that were so far left-field of what I’d intended that they were in the next county. This hearing friend had apparently enjoyed the performance despite not understanding much, so did it matter? Does it matter? Lots to think about!

Thanks to The Cooper Foundation and their deep pockets, Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence (visiting Cornell Professor at Swarthmore), Dr Donna West, Dr Michiko Kaneko, Martin Haswell (great website and videos), poets Peter Cook & Kenny Lerner (Flying Words), Debbie Rennie, Richard Carter, John Wilson and one other, the terps Doreen Kelley, Mike Canfield, Kyra Pollitt, Christopher Stone, Debbie Taylor (voicing Debbie Rennie’s poems) and Christopher Tester; Nick Furrow for good food, the participants, the volunteers, the audience, and many more besides that I probably don’t even know about, thanks to everyone who had a hand in this – I’m going to use this word again – AMAZING festival.

Thank you!

Now can someone steal me a TARDIS…?

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 🙂

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. 🙂

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.