Frances Lewin recently conducted a much-needed piece of research* entitled:

“Sign language interpreting support for Deaf university students. How well is the current system working?”

The questions looked into the University experience both from a deaf student and Interpreter perspective.

Deaf Students

The key challenges identified by deaf students are:

  • The DSA budget of £21,305 per year (correct in 2017/2018) does not always guarantee access to all the necessary lectures or additional study skills sessions. The study revealed that approximately one-third of students could not attend because the funds had run out. This undoubtedly adds to additional stress. 
  • Consistency of support.  Just over half of those surveyed said all of their interpreting support was in place for them to start their studies. Which of course means half are not supported.
  • Deaf students also shared that they cannot always choose which Interpreters they are assigned and often have to work with a range of Interpreters across their studies.
  • More than half the students found organising this support either difficult or worrying or stressful.
  • Some deaf students contacted Frances and explained that they had left Higher Education due to insufficient interpreting support

Sign Language Interpreters

This part of the research will be available Spring 2020, but it has been suggested that the registration under the current DSA QAG Framework is one of the significant challenges for Sign Language Interpreters. 

DSA QAG is the organisation that audit the suppliers who are providing support for deaf and disabled students. Anyone who is providing this support must go through a registration process and a yearly Audit (more on this when we talk about Agencies).

One of the recent additions to this process is that Interpreters must undertake the following training courses to work with deaf students in Higher Education:

  • Confidentiality and Data Protection
  • Health and Safety
  • Lone Working
  • Safeguarding
  • Professional Boundaries

This is a part of the audit and, should Interpreters decide not to complete the training, agencies will be unable to work with them in the future.


It can be easy to believe that agencies are purely there to make money from providing this support – and in some cases this may be true. But not in all cases.

Speaking from our perspective, we are a part of a working group which is made up of a range of other agencies who support deaf students in Higher Education.  The reason this working group was established was to safeguard the quality of services for deaf students. Also, to remove these barriers and challenges – it’s something that we feel passionately about.

Many of the challenges that students experience when receiving interpreting support are experienced by agencies too. For example:

  • Many budgets not large enough to cover all of the support because it has to be shared with others who are also providing support.
  • A lack of consistency across Interpreter support.  Deaf students often receive a late DSA Assessment and only receive that term’s timetable a few weeks before they start.

The lack of lead time necessary, makes it very difficult to provide consistent support.

And some additional challenges that are faced by businesses providing this support are:

  • SFE take 30 days to process invoices – therefore the invoices sent are only just beginning to be enter the system on the day that we are paying Interpreters.
  • Universities are unwilling to pay for cancelled sessions that are dismissed by SFE
  • Requests to provide support at the very last minute
  • SFE not paying for breaks that Interpreters are taking during the day

These are just some of the issues currently facing agencies and we are working together to try and resolve them, so the effects are not felt by deaf students and Interpreters. But there is some anxiety amongst us that – as they have done every single year – the problems will exacerbate.

This year, we have found that many more students have been supported by a number of suppliers before we provide them with support. Which demonstrates the levels of dissatisfaction with the level of support deaf students are receiving.

We would really welcome you views, so please do hit respond and let us know:

  • The challenges that you have experienced supporting University students?
  • What could be done to make things better?