Quality British Sign Language Interpreting

Increasing awareness for the deaf community is a growing priority within the UK and there are various organisations such as RAD and RNIB who are making a noteworthy contribution. As a nation, we need to not only offer additional support to this group of people, but also review how robust our specialist services are for the wider deaf community.

That’s why it’s great to see organisations like Action on Hearing Loss undertaking quantitative research into the field, to better understand how the needs of deaf people are being serviced and how we can improve.

Action on Hearing Loss conducted an industry survey in April 2012, named Our Health in Your Hands, which collected responses from 305 participants who use British Sign Language (BSL) as their primary language. The purpose of the survey was to review the experiences that BSL users have when accessing healthcare services, in particular the professional interactions they have with BSL interpreters.

Some of the key findings are shown below:


Have made a complaint about a sign language interpreter because they could not understand them


Felt embarrassed because a family member or friend was doing the interpreting


Are not sure if their GP surgery would be able to book a registered sign language interpreter for them

From looking at the statistics, it is clear that British Sign Language interpreting needs to adapt and meet the needs of the people more efficiently. Particularly in a healthcare setting, patients should be able to rely on an interpreting service which provides clarity of information in a timely and responsible manner.

A further survey was completed by Action on Hearing Loss in 2013, Action all Areas. The survey was conducted with over 600 people with different levels of hearing loss to find out what experiences they have when accessing healthcare.

Bodies such as Action on Hearing Loss play a pivotal role in filtering actionable information through to stakeholder groups and these surveys help to open constructive dialogue with sign language users up and down the country.

NHS England is taking action on such reports and in July 2015 introduced the Accessible Information Standard.

Accessible Information Standard

On 3rd July 2015 NHS England Published the Access Information Specification which all Organisations must follow in full by 31st July 2016.

“The Accessible Information Standard also tells organisations how to support people’s communication needs, for example by offering support from a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, deafblind manual interpreter or an advocate.”

NHS England Accessible Information Standard

These demands can only be met by involved parties focusing on quality standards and as a result, the NHS, Languages Service Providers and interpreters themselves will have to work together to implement a range of improvements across the board.

Below is a timeline that all organisations who provide NHS or publicly funded adult social care must meet:

By 01 September 2015 – Begin to prepare for implementation of the Access Information Standard

By 01 April 2016 – Identify and record information and communication needs with service users

By 31 July 2016 – Fully implement and conform to the Accessible Information Standard

If we are to redefine standards, we as an industry will need to deliver more knowledge based training, constructive recommendations and support for BSL interpreters. And we’re certainly up for the challenge.

Qualifications are a necessity

As part of our commitment to quality we realise that qualifications are necessary components within the selection process, as they help ensure patients are serviced by skilled interpreters with relevant experience. Supplying qualified interpreters should swiftly become an industry standard and Capita Translation and Interpreting guarantees that all British Sign Language interpreters used are registered with the National Register of Communications Professionals (NRCPD).

The industry now needs to follow suit and realise that a standardised approach to BSL interpreting quality is needed. Only qualified interpreters in this field should be chosen for health based contracts and Language Service Providers now need to go the extra mile to ensure unqualified BSL interpreters are given the resources to improve their trade rather than be excluded.

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