Interview with Abigail Gorman

01 September 2021

"Four years ago, I began my undergraduate degree in Social Sciences and required NRCPD registered sign language interpreters for my lectures. It was an agency who provided me with interpreters to work with for my lectures and they were poorly disorganised. I had many battles with agencies during my time at university. The agency kept providing me with newly qualified interpreters who were not experienced enough to interpret in university domains and especially for the subject I was studying.

During my first year, I informed the agency that I did not want newly qualified interpreters for my lectures and even provided them with a list of my preferred interpreters (including interpreters that I did not want) and the agency ignored this. As the interpreters they provided me with were not experienced enough to be interpreting at my lectures and not able to do voiceover properly, it was quite embarrassing for me. They also wouldn't allow me to work with my preferred interpreters. There was one instance, where I contacted some of my preferred interpreters who had the experience to interpret in my lectures and they confirmed their availability to me. I then went back to the agency giving them the details of which of my preferred interpreters were available to interpret in my lectures. The agency got back to me saying that the interpreters were not available, despite my contacting the interpreters first to check their availability. As it turned out, the agency never contacted the interpreters in the first place and so they lied to me.

I repeatedly contacted the agency to sort it out and provide me with qualified and registered interpreters who were experienced enough to interpret in university domains. It had a huge impact on me and really affected my university education due to the fact that I had no control over who interpreted for me. I had to have counselling as it was so stressful. This was only my first year of university and I asked them to book my interpreter in July, ready for September, but in August they said they had not heard from the interpreter, but they had not even asked him.

I had to fight with the agency for another year and a half after this too. They also breached GDPR three times by putting my home address onto an invoice and others who sent me trainee interpreters instead of fully qualified interpreters.

I do feel that agencies need regulation as the way they operate fails Deaf students. I even surveyed Deaf students for my university dissertation which was titled: 'The Impact of Disabled Students Allowance Regulation and Deaf Student Narratives' and there were some shocking results about their access to education. I know of two Deaf students who missed a whole term of university as the agency did not provide them with an interpreter. It requires a lot of resilience from Deaf people to get the access they need. I feel that universities, agencies and Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) all need to work together for support for Deaf students to be effective.

Agencies are not used to Deaf people being assertive about which interpreters they have interpreting for them at their appointments. By the time I was studying for my Master's degree, things were so much better for me because of my dissertation and so the university were aware of the struggles I went through and their legal obligations to meet my needs. I was also provided with interpreters who were experienced enough to interpret in my university lectures.

My advice for interpreters is to reflect on your conduct and to reflect on whether it is the right domain for you to work in, as you need to be fully prepared when taking on jobs."

- Abigail Gorman, a Deaf BSL user.

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