Ben Souter loved Deaf people

15 April 2018

Ben was an BSL interpreter who came from Australia. He died suddenly in his sleep back in Australia, having returned home maybe 10 years ago.

Last night there was a Facebook Live Stream of a memorial event for him in London. Lying in my hospital bed I was able to access the memories of interpreters and Deaf people. It was moving and joyous. By the end my tears were running.

You can see the Live Stream here:

It was clear that Ben loved life and loved people. And luckily he loved Deaf people. It made him a fabulous interpreter. He had a good brain and used it to benefit his interpreting and the interpreting situation.

One recollection by a Deaf client was that she was teaching some linguistic concept in Australian Sign Language and got lost for examples. Ben discreetly asked if she wanted any from him. She gladly grabbed them. Ben could have sat and watched her losing confidence. He didn’t because he loved Deaf people, and wanted them to thrive.

Another recollection dealt with a Deaf person facilitating a diverse group of Deaf people. Ben was able to render his interpreting in a flexible way that ensured there was maximum access for all. At one point the facilitator was trying to facilitate and take flip chart notes at the same time. Ben was inactive at that point, there being other interpreters on the go. Ben offered to take the notes, an offer that was gratefully received. And they turned out to be brilliant notes.

Again, Ben could have sat there as a passive observer. But he saw how he could use all his talents to enhance the interpreting service.

There will be interpreters who will say that’s not empowering, and that if the Deaf person is less than effective, that’s their problem, not the interpreter’s. I say that these are interpreters who don’t love Deaf people.

There’s been some stuff on Twitter these past few days about high-flying Deaf people, in business and academia, being let down by interpreters who don’t understand their signing, and who speak inappropriately for the situation. It makes the Deaf person look inadequate and incompetent.

So why are there these interpreters who lack fluency in their chosen spoken language, so that they cannot speak with confidence and authority in a wide range of formal and informal settings? Who assumes that because someone can speak one register or dialect that they will reflect a Deaf person in a high level meeting with civil servants? Training and assessment bodies fail! Next time you hear an interpretation which has “we was thinkin'” tell the interpreter that isn’t acceptable, because it draws attention to the interpeter, and not what the `deaf person is saying

And why are there interpreters out there who can’t scrape an academic degree into their CVs, interpreting at business meetings? Regulatory bodies fail!

And why are there interpreters struggling to understand the BSL used by Deaf academics? Training and assessment and regulatory bodies fail!

We’re well past the stage of make do and mend as far as interpreters are concerned. When Deaf people were limited to lower management and technical jobs, you might get away with a less than articulate, unacademic, BSL un-fluent interpreter. But not now.

Interpreters who don’t know they’re inadequate need telling; by clients and by colleagues.

Interpreters who know they’re inadequate but blunder on by being popular or funny or blind, don’t love Deaf people. They’re exploiters and the enemy. Get them out!