Deciding whether or not you should volunteer your services as a sign language interpreter can be a tricky dilemma to face. After spending extortionate amounts of money and time to gain your qualifications, should you offer your services and skills for free?
This is something we’ve discussed here at terptree, and we ultimately concluded that volunteering your services is a personal choice and if you choose to do it, it’s absolutely okay. Let me tell you why…
Giving back to the community
We know that learning BSL to interpreter standard means that you have a passion for the D/deaf community as well as the language. This passion is usually the driving fuel through the extensive training; and if you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t do it. Being able to make a living from this passion is a truly wonderful thing.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to give back to the community, particularly for those areas where there aren’t always the funds for BSL interpreters. For most jobs, payment is absolutely necessary due to the prep work and the mental and physical demands of the job. Of course, you should be paid for your work.
But events that are run by charities, or school plays, may be the types of work where volunteering could take place.
Volunteering can be a great way to network, gain experience, and gain opportunities that could lead to paid work in the future. For example, sign language interpreters at Reading Festival are not paid but they are given a weekend ticket (£200) for free. So not direct payment, but an opportunity to experience the festival whilst gaining experience in song translation.
Volunteering is seen within other career paths that also require extensive (and expensive) training, such as in the medical and legal fields. Solicitors may work pro-bono for those on a low income, and private doctors may also undertake work on the NHS.
Is volunteering detrimental to the sign language profession?
One argument against volunteering as a sign language interpreter is that by offering your services for free, this will become the expectation. Of course we can see where this thinking has come from and why an interpreter may feel this way.
But I question the consequences of not volunteering. If the professionals do not volunteer, then who is left? Those who are learning BSL from lower levels may offer their skills to provide access (let me clarify that I am in no way suggesting that those who are learning BSL should not volunteer, in fact I think they should to an extent). But should a level 1-3 BSL student be in a volunteering situation they are not qualified to handle, then they may leave the situation where they, and the deaf person, are feeling disempowered. The consequences of this may lead to the student not wanting to continue their studies, or the decline in BSL interpreting standards.
If you don’t want to volunteer?
It really is a simple as that. Your decision to volunteer, or not, is entirely your own and does not reflect your abilities as an interpreter in any way.
As always, we love to hear your thoughts and opinions surrounding these topics. So do hit reply and tell us why you do, or do not, volunteer as a sign language interpreter, or why you’re unsure of your position on it.