‘Opportunistic’ attacks on sign language interpreting/translation services during the coronavirus pandemic will cause ‘long term misery’ on deaf communities struggling during the crisis, the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI), a branch of Unite, the UK’s leading union, said today.

The pandemic and lockdown restrictions have exacerbated many issues already experienced by deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users and interpreters.

Due to lockdown restrictions, access to face-to-face sign language interpretation services and BSL provisions have been reduced. According to the charity, SignHealth, deaf people’s mental health and ability to access basic healthcare are being seriously and disproportionately impacted by measures taken to combat the pandemic. 

Unite said sign language agencies and commissioners are now using the compromises both deaf people and interpreters have made during the crisis to make plans to reduce BSL service provisions once the pandemic ends.

An increased use of Video Relay Services (VRS), as a result of government enforced social distancing restrictions, has led to fees and terms and conditions for interpreters being attacked. The union said many BSL agencies are now planning for VRS to make up at least 50 per cent of their services once the Covid-19 pandemic has been brought under control.

NUBSLI branch secretary Samantha Riddle said: “The attacks on the sign language services we are now seeing will cause long term misery for deaf communities already suffering because of the pandemic. While VRS does meet the needs of some deaf people in particular circumstances, it is not suitable for all or useful in every situation and should not be made into the primary form BSL service provision.  

 “The disproportionate sacrifices made by deaf people during the crisis are in danger of becoming permanent, with the first step being the opportunistic use of the pandemic by service providers to attack interpreters’ pay and terms and conditions.

 “As well as drastically eroding our members’ living standards, these cynical attempts to phase out face-to-face interpretation services over the long term will have a devasting impact on deaf people all over the country.”


Notes to editors:

The campaign #RightsReclaim is about protecting everyone’s rights – deaf peoples’ right to access and to remain safe, and interpreters’ rights to be treated fairly as workers and professionals.

It is vital that interpreters and deaf people stand together to challenge this and reclaim our rights. NUBSLI will be developing this campaign over the coming months. We hope that deaf communities and all users of interpreting services will help us by supporting the campaign, as it is only by working together that will we protect and reclaim our rights…

For further information go to: https://nubsli.com/campaigns/rightsreclaim/

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.