Only 8% of sign language interpreters are from ethnic minorities, study finds


Steps must be taken to change the proportion of ethnically diverse people working as sign language interpreters, researchers have advised.

Comments from academics at the University of the West of Scotland, Heriot-Watt universities and Wolverhampton follow the publication of a census of sign language interpreters and translators funded by the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI).

Almost 90 percent of census respondents (618 out of 690) identified themselves as white, while only eight percent said they were from an ethnic minority.

Dr Chijioke Obasi, who led the UWS research contribution and is a lecturer at the University’s School of Education and Social Sciences, said: “As an academic who has researched and published on issues of race and ethnicity in and practice, I was very pleased to be invited to join the research team.

“The issues of identity and intersectionality are increasingly recognized in many professions and organizations. This report provides an excellent opportunity to raise the profile of these issues within the profession of sign language interpreter and translator.

The report stated: “There has been a marginal increase in the number of SLTI [sign language translators and interpreters] ethnic minorities in the profession, but not in sufficient numbers to lead to a sufficiently diverse professional profile.

“This may be due to a number of factors, including the fact that potential SLTIs do not see enough ethnic diversity among existing interpreters and interpreter trainers to attract them to the profession. But there is a danger that the SLTI profession will become more institutionalized as a white profession if steps are not taken to actively change this profile.

“Although an active recruitment of black interpreters is necessary, a special effort should be made to recruit more interpreters of Asian and other ethnic minorities. A specific mentoring system could also help more interpreters from ethnic minorities to take up high-level positions. “

The academics also add that the “typical profile” of an SLTI practitioner is a 44-year-old straight white hearing woman, who is also self-employed with family responsibilities and who is both listed in the National Registry of Health Professionals. communication working with deaf people. and the deafblind (NRCPD) and ASLI.

Other census results include over 30 percent of British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters stating that they are “unwilling” to provide their services for religious events, with more than half (51%) stating that they had “no religion” and one-third (38 percent) identified as Christian.

The percentage has been described as “worrisome” by researchers, who fear it “may have an impact on the UK deaf community’s access to the practice of their faith”.

The authors, however, cited a higher proportion of LGBTQIA + translators and interpreters compared to the general population as “a positive story of representation”, with 14% of SLTI identifying themselves as a member of the community – a figure seven times higher than the Desktop. for national statistics 2.2 percent statistic for the UK population.

The report then lists 20 recommendations in its conclusion, which include regulatory bodies such as the NRCPD and the Regulatory Body for Sign Language Interpreters (RBSLI) requiring that SLTIs “demonstrate some level of engagement with issues. diversity and inclusion ”, as part of meeting their annual“ continuing professional development ”requirements.

The research team said, “The research team each brought together their own diverse personal and professional experiences and experiences for this study, which highlighted what we have been anecdotally suspecting for some time in the profession at United Kingdom: That the demographic profile of sign language translators and interpreters does not reflect or represent the characteristics of the general population or of the British deaf community.

“Although the profession demonstrates effective recruitment of certain minority groups (for example, with a higher proportion of SLIT who identify as LGBTQIA + than the community at large), other intersectional characteristics, particularly race and ethnicity, are under-represented. The team made 20 recommendations for stakeholder organizations to take action to change this image. “

Dr Obasi and the rest of the research team hosted a webinar for the Association of Sign Language Interpreters as part of their CPD offering in October. A similar CPD webinar will also be presented at VLP (Visual Language Professionals) on November 6th. Find out more and register here.


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