£2.7million boost for BSL users in Wales

There has been a very positive development this week in Wales. The Welsh Assembly has pledged £2.7million to increase the number of BSL/English Interpreters in Wales.

This is the press release:

Up to £2.7m is being made available for a scheme to increase the number of British Sign Language interpreters in Wales, which is a huge step in giving those who use the language better access to services across the country, Equalities Minister Jane Hutt announced today [Monday, 6 February].

This is the first scheme of this size in the UK and will benefit the 3,000 people in Wales who use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first or preferred language.

Professional interpreters allow Deaf sign language users quicker and better access to services such as the NHS, the police and local authorities. Having to read, write or lipread a second spoken language, such as Welsh or English, in which they may have limited literacy, often leaves sign language users with poor access to information.

Making the announcement at Legal and General, Cardiff, who employ BSL users, Jane Hutt said: “Today’s announcement is a major step forward in promoting social inclusion. The problems people can face if there aren’t interpreters available cannot be underestimated. There are recorded cases where sign language users have faced severe difficulties in reporting crimes; and have had to communicate with health staff in inappropriate and undignified situations.

“Often a sign language user has to wait up to eight weeks to secure an interpreter to see their GP, or discuss their child’s education with a teacher or question a neighbour’s planning application. This cannot be right.

“That’s why we want to invest to increase the number of interpreters and are funding the scheme, BSL Futures. The funding will provide 36 posts for Apprentice Interpreters to train and get their qualifications. It will support a further nine trainee interpreters with grants to access courses. This is the first scheme of its size in the UK.

“Social inclusion and accessible services for sign language users are enormously important equality issues. This initiative will make a real difference. It’s an example of just one of the innovative ways in which the Assembly Government is tackling social inequality in Wales.”

BSL Futures is funded by £1.6m from the European Union’s Objective One programme and £1.1m match funding from the Welsh Assembly Government.  The partnership led by RNID Cymru, Deaf Association Wales and the Association of Sign Language Interpreters is already in the process of recruiting its first 10 apprentice interpreters.

The scheme will provide each apprentice interpreter with a bursary and an individually tailored, fully-supported training programme that will result in their registration as a freelance professional interpreter.

It will also:

  • Train more BSL tutors to teach the language at the highest levels;
  • Support colleges across Wales to develop their BSL course provision;
  • Develop a postgraduate course in BSL/Spoken Language interpreting;
  • Support public service providers in Wales to develop the capacity to
    deliver services in BSL.

Catrin Fletcher, Director of RNID Cymru, which represents deaf and hard of hearing people in Wales, says: “This announcement is wonderful news for sign language users in Wales. The scheme will make social inclusion a reality for sign language users by dramatically increasing the number of BSL interpreters.

“This is a really good illustration of the difference that can be made by government and the voluntary sector working together. RNID Cymru welcomes the Minister’s announcement of Welsh Assembly Government support for BSL Futures. We wholeheartedly support the scheme.”

Julie Watkins chair of the South Wales Region of the Association of Sign Language interpreters said: “We see first hand the detrimental effect that the lack of interpreters has on the sign language community. This scheme will make accessible information and participation a reality.

“It’s also a wonderful opportunity to develop the profession to ensure that sign language users have full access to services and can play a full role as equal citizens of Wales. We applaud the Assembly Government for backing recognition of BSL with funding for this innovative scheme.”

Adrian Clark, Location Director, Legal and General, Cardiff said: “We currently employ six full-time profoundly deaf staff across our business here in Cardiff. We are extremely pleased with their work and their commitment, they are a delight to have in the company. However, the distinct needs of our deaf staff mean communication is critical and we are continually frustrated by the inability to find qualified interpreters, especially at short notice, to allow them to function normally within the workplace. This announcement by the Welsh Assembly Government is very good news and cannot come soon enough.”

6 February, 2006

Note

A Cabinet Task and Finish Group, established in June 2004 and chaired by Karen Sinclair AM, investigated BSL interpreter services in Wales.  It found that that the number of appropriately qualified BSL/Spoken language interpreters in Wales was poor. The Group recommended that the Assembly Government take action to increase from 12 to 64 the number of BSL to Spoken language interpreters available in Wales.

Organisations which were members of the project partnership board that set up the scheme are: Welsh Local Government Association, Llandrillo College, Deaf Association Wales, Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People, Association of Sign Language Interpreters, ELWa, WEFO, Wales Council for Deaf People, RNID Cymru.

Legal and General currently employs six full-time profoundly deaf staff in its operation in Cardiff and is working towards achieving the RNID ‘Louder than Words’ kite mark. For more information contact Jackie Quantock, Business Communications Manager, Legal and General, 029 20 354899.

While I applaud this development, I do have a few comments to make.

It appears that the RNId received most of the £2.7million. Why? Why do Governments and public bodies always think that the RNId is the definitive charity in the UK for Deaf BSL users? Is it simply because they’re the charity with the most exposure? I wish they would bugger off and stop taking over things that they don’t even want i.e. supporting the development of BSL, when they never supported the campaign to make it a recognised language.

It appears that the Welsh Assembly did not consult with the Welsh Deaf community about how the money should be spent. Once again, hearing people have decided what they think is ‘best’ for Deaf people. Bugger off, the lot of you! Unless you know what you’re talking about, leave well alone!

In putting forward funds to train BSL/English Interpreters in Wales by the RNId, the Welsh Assembly may have shot itself in the foot. A great number of Deaf BSL users in Wales – including me – are unlikely to use RNId BSL/English Interpreters, preferring to source their communication support from elsewhere. This is hardly the benefit to the Welsh Deaf community the Assembly was hoping to achieve, is it?

Still, I suppose it’s better than nothing, and £2.7million is a damn sight more than the measly £1.5million provided by the DWP when BSL was formally recognised in March 2003.

By the way, I was offered a job at Legal & General around the time I was offered a job at RAD.  The RNId Employment Service tend to send all their Deaf clients to Legal & General rather than helping them find the job of their dreams.  I went for some employment advice after I finished my LPC, asking for some help getting into the legal profession, and they got me a job with Legal & General.  That was good of them (!).

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1 Response

  1. JGJones says:

    Sound like what BDA really need is a very good PR officer to ensure that they get into limelight a lot.

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