Our Managing Director Mark Hudson was interviewed by Allison Ferns on BBC Sussex on 29th January.
You can listen to the interview by clicking here.
We have also produced a transcript of the interview:
The Allison Ferns Afternoon Show
BBC Sussex on 29th January 2015 at 2.40pm
Mark Hudson: What we do is, we essentially make phone calls for the deaf. That’s to service providers or family. We have British Sign Language translators, interpreters, and we essentially set up a video call with the deaf caller, and our interpreter will sign pleasantries and ‘hello’ and understand what they want to do, then we make the phone call, and deliver a phone call to the service provider, just the way they get one from you or me.
Allison Ferns: I suppose the thing is, when you can hear well, it’s easy to underestimate the challenges of the deaf community.
Mark: Well, it is, and it’s affectionately known as “the invisible disability” because, I guess, most of us are conditioned to see disability as more of a physical thing. For the deaf, there are a variety of different challenges, things that you and I take for granted, so we’re in a radio studio, I like Bruce Springsteen but my boss has never heard music. Never heard his baby cry for the first time or just basic stuff that we take for granted and we don’t get.
Allison: Yes, and being able to do basic everyday tasks, for example, phone your electricity provider, and yet if you’re deaf, then you can’t do that. You can’t just pick up the phone and have that chat.
Mark: I think that’s essentially where we’re focused at, at the moment, because originally when we were founded, 10 years ago, technology wasn’t advanced as much as it is today. With the advent of broadband networks and clever devices like tablets and so on, we’re able to bring the communications medium, which is video, into almost a very “normal” communication mode – such as writing a letter or making a phone call. Originally, we were there to help deaf individuals communicate with hearing family and friends, and potentially support at work, but of course, you still couldn’t get access to the video, back in 2006, 2008, whereas now there is no excuse for any service provider or any individual to not be able to make themselves available to communicate with the deaf world, and so our focus is very much on looking for service providers to provide equality and include a really significant portion of the community, people that can contribute and need just the same things you and I need. You are right, if I get a water bill, or a letter from the council, which I’m not keen on or I’m confused by, I can ring them up. There’s no chance, at the moment, for a deaf person to do that.
Allison: What does happen at the moment?
Mark: Well, assuming the British Sign Language user can understand the written dialect that comes to them – for the community we serve, image, video is really, really important – most service providers communicate with us by letter, so there’s the first problem. Perhaps they’ve got a family member who is hearing, or some support person, or a friend that will help read and explain what the problem is. Sometimes these things are really personal…
Allison: You might not want your family knowing the in’s-and-out’s of your business, or your next-door neighbour, or your friend! I suppose this is a way of giving people back that independence.
Mark: It really is. It’s an uplifting experience, if ever you get the opportunity to experience it, it really is quite something. A sign language user, they aren’t the ones needing the communication, we need to communicate. Hearing people need to communicate, with the non-hearing people. British Sign Language is a language in it’s own right. It is not, they’re not translating English, I mean it’s a unique language – the way they express themselves is fundamentally very different, and trying to get across particular points by writing, it’s not their natural language – for you and I, if we’re trying to fill a credit card form out in Greek, if we didn’t have someone there to tell us how to fill it out and what it means…
Allison: We’d struggle!
Mark: ….we probably wouldn’t get anything done. I think it’s absolutely no different.
Allison: Mark, I’m sure you will remember, as will people listening, the interpreter that was used to do the sign language at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and the public outcry because he obviously didn’t have a clue what he was doing. How do you go about making sure the interpreters you use are up to scratch?
Mark: That’s a really great point, and the one thing I would add about the South African thing is it did bring a profile to the predicament and the needs of the sign language user. Back to the question – we are unique in our industry, in that we will only use fully-qualified, fully-bonded, insured, accredited interpreters. For a fully-qualified interpreter, that’s going to take them something like six or seven years – longer than a degree course. In addition to that, they have to have undertaken a minimum of three years post-qualification community practitioning experience, so they’ve actually gone out and done it. It’s a great question, because part of the problem, the industry to some extent, is trying to serve in a manner that is not in a quality way, I would suggest. For example, if there was a French-speaking person who couldn’t speak English at the hospital, would we expect a GCSE French student to translate everything that is going on around that medical condition for that French person? The answer would be ‘no’.
Allison: No, I wouldn’t want them translating for me!
Mark: No, absolutely, and why should a deaf person accept something of a lesser quality?
Allison: A lower standard.
Mark: It is really important, hence why we’d love to see Government adopt regulation here, as it has been in other countries, so that these standards do emerge, and it brings up the level of quality available to the BSL community.
Allison: Is there resistance to SignVideo and this form of communicating? From the, how to put it, the more traditional school of thought, where you have a face-to-face interpreter? I mean, people could argue ‘we’ve been doing it this way for years, why should we change?’ People could also be funny to the very notion of ‘change’ in itself, a new technology.
Mark: There’s a couple of aspects to that. One is the BSL community itself, because there will be people who have been brought up, and their whole communication experience with the hearing world is primarily through a face-to-face interpreter, be that a family member or an actual interpreter. I think resistance comes in a variety of different forms.
We spoke earlier about technology and how people are running multiple applications on multiple devices all of the time, and of course the demographic is such that now that is no different for the young Deaf person and young BSL user. They are very used to technology, they are very used to communicating how and when they want to and where they want to. So, I think it’s an inevitability really. There are some traditional objections from face-to-face interpreting agencies, even some of the charities to some extent, where their traditional significant revenue streams are generated through face to face interpreting, so there is a fear that something new coming along could have a detrimental impact to that.
I come at it a different way. We are not a charity, we are a social enterprise, and we are here to serve the BSL community. We are here to make opportunities equal, or better for the community that we serve, and so any objection to that, to me, is a bit of a false objection. I don’t think there is any place for it. It’s not a fix for everything, and probably we should say that. Video relay interpreting is not the panacea for every BSL user’s interpreting requirements. Some situations it’s not a good fit for. You wouldn’t want to be doing it for 7 hours in a meeting room perhaps, I don’t know, but it’s horses for courses, it’s an absolutely marvellous application. It presents the nearest thing for a BSL person for instant communication with the hearing world, just exactly the way that we can do it. They can pick up a phone and make that call now. You’re a mother, so if you can imagine getting up in the morning as a Deaf mother, your baby is not well, there’s no one there to help you, how do you contact your GP? How do you get help? What do you do? I know what you would do, I know what I would do, but what does the Deaf mother do?
Allison: How much does it all cost though? And it’s awful, but all of these things, great ideas, but it always comes down to the bottom line.
Mark: First of all I’d say it’s extremely good value from us, but cost is a moot point. So, face-to-face interpreting for example, you can’t get a face-to-face interpreter for ten minutes, so if I needed face-to-face interpreters to support me for a GP appointment, for example, the likelihood is that it will be something like a minimum two hour charge, with travel time easily could be 3 or 4 hours to cover a ten minute appointment. With the VRS services, you’ll pay by the minute, and you may pay anything from £2.50 to £4 a minute, but you’ll pay for the time that you use and that’s it.
Allison: Are there any down sides to it at all? Are there any concerns that security wise, or privacy wise, that sort of thing?
Mark: No, in so much that, I guess if I walk into a bank, and I walk up to a desk, it’s happened to me so many times, I want to take a few hundred euros out in cash, the person behind the desk often shouts out ‘so you want to take €300, Mr. Hudson’, great, thanks a lot!
Allison: And we’ve all been in the GP surgery where the receptionist tells everyone in the waiting room what you’ve come in about.
Mark: Yeah, ‘still got that nasty disease!’ So, I think there are natural risks, but I think from a security point of view, technically, no. The technology’s security is quite deep and broad, and from a personal security point of view, the obligations of the interpreter that is bonded and registered, they wouldn’t be working if they breached the levels of confidentiality that they are obligated to undertake.
Allison: So how do people access the services? If there is someone listening this afternoon and they are thinking, ‘do you know what, that would be perfect for my sister, my friend, my mother, my father’, how do they go about making that happen?
Mark: Well there are three different ways that one could get support. If it’s just on a personal basis then people can take out personal calling plans from companies such as ourselves. Those that perhaps get social services support, there are things called Direct Payments which social services will support individuals that are at risk or need. Access to Work, through the DWP, Department of Work and Pensions, they will provide funding for support of Deaf workers. These are applications that you have to make, and then of course there are the service providers. So there are some banks, who take the service, and provide that to the Deaf community as part of their banking services.
Allison: It’s interesting isn’t it, because often on this show we talk about technology and how in some ways it has increased isolation. You know, people refer to ‘oh you never get to speak to somebody face to face anymore, everything’s done online, everyone’s spending their time texting people or messaging people on social networks, what happened to picking up the phone or going over to someone’s house’, and yet this is an actual example of how technology can be used in a really positive way to decrease isolation and increase equality.
Mark: To someone of my age it’s the “anti-social network”, and I’m a lad and I can’t multitask, but clearly my son can play a game and tweet and watch a movie and do all sorts of stuff all at the same time. But no, for the BSL community in particular, the Deaf community at large, image and communication is massive. It is unquestionably a burden that we are unable to communicate with them as much as they are unable to communicate with us. I see every day just in a pub, Deaf people with hearing colleagues will be doing something on Google message or something, and it’s absolutely brilliant, and as I move around the country, some of the challenges that some of the traditional Deaf societies and Deaf clubs have, because people are integrating just into everyday life. They want to go to the pub the way I go to the pub. They want to make a phone call the way I make a phone call. One of the things that stuck with me from my boss, from Jeff McWhinney, was when I first met him, we had a long conversation, and it was my first experience of being in a conversation with a Deaf person and a sign language interpreter, and one of the points he made to me was, ‘Mark, I’m not special. I just want to be able to do what you can do’, and that just resonated with me, and he hooked me there and then, and hence here we are.
Allison: And that is what this service offers, as you say, just letting people in the Deaf community do what you and I take for granted. If people want to find out more is there a website?
Mark: There is, it’s www.signvideo.co.uk. Follow us on Twitter and all the other good stuff.