NDIS and Interpreting – A Revolution in Progress

Change is a dirty word. We don’t like change. Especially when that change challenges our status quo. We especially hate it when it challenges things that we have fought so hard for. But sometimes change is thrust upon us. Sometimes there is no stopping it. And sometimes we either find away to work with change or it passes us by. In the worst case scenarios sometimes we resist change so much that everything that we have fought for is lost and everyone loses. Change is being thrust upon the Australian Deaf community now in the form of the NDIS. Lot’s of us don’t like it but the NDIS is not going away.

Us Deafies mostly come from hearing families.  A lot of our time, if not most of our time, is spent interacting with hearing peers. This can be very frustrating. It can can be very lonely. Most of us Deafies know of the moments at Christmas, at parties, at home or simply out in the community where we are left out and unable to participate.  We miss the speeches at 21st. We miss eulogies at funerals. Sporting clubs have awards nights or trivia nights and we lack any capacity to be involved. It is soul destroying and frustrating. Potentially the NDIS will help us to beat the isolation of these events and be more involved.

How many of us have wanted to take part in personal training, in a local cooking course, learn a little about gardening at the local Neighbourhood House or learn how to knit properly. How many of us have seen courses advertised locally and yearned to take part but could not because communication would be too hard. Yes, the NDIS can help us participate in these things too.

Or that coaching course to improve our chipping at golf. Or our tennis serve is weak and we want to learn how to be better. Or we never learnt to swim when we were a kid  and would like to finally swim. Or training our dogs and the local dog agility classes. So many things we have wanted to do but communication has prevented it. Yes, the NDIS can help us with this too.

No begging to our Deaf societies. No arguing for access. No special courses. No cringing at being left out at weddings and parties. Being able to celebrate the life of our dear and departed. No begging and no charity. Just us in control and doing the things that we want and when we want. Blimey, if I want I can book an interpreter to accompany me for a drink with the lads at the local. And if you don’t sign you can have captioning to your iPad, laptop or mobile phone. Sure the latter needs a bit more arranging but it can be done. And all through the NDIS.

The NDIS is providing us with choice and control that we previously could only dream of. The potential is huge and we are just now scratching the surface of what we can do. But we are resisting! Why??

Part of the reason is because the NDIS have set a rate to pay for interpreters and it is far less than what agencies pay.  When agencies take their cut and then pay the interpreter it is way, way above the $122 an hour that the NDIS will pay. This is for a number of reasons, mostly that agencies and interpreters charge a two hour minimum. Then of course for jobs over two hours, two interpreters are required.  There can be travel time as well for jobs over 40 k from the Central Business District. It all adds up. The rate that the NDIS pays does not factor these things in.

The NDIS solution to this is to say that Deaf people can negotiate a payment rate with agencies or they can go direct to interpreters and negotiate with them individually. Sounds great in theory but it is causing all sorts of problems.

Under the NDIS  we can self-manage our funding or we can be agency managed. If we are agency managed we can only use registered providers. Very few individual interpreters are registered as providers which means Deaf participants only have the option of using agencies. This can limit how far their NDIS funds can go because of the cost that is charged.

However, if a Deaf person is self-managed they can choose whoever they want to interpret for them. This is causing a number of controversies. I will try to outline these controversies here:

  1. Most interpreters work through agencies. Agencies are their bread and butter. They are reluctant to accept jobs outside of agencies. There are two reasons for this. Firstly agencies pay the interpreters tax and cover them for insurance in event of accident and injury. Secondly they are want to go into competition with agencies (who really are their employers) lest the agencies black mark them and not provide them with other interpreting jobs.
  2. The interpreting community are up in arms about the possibility of Deaf people going it alone and booking whoever they want. They rightly point out there are risks involved if the Deaf person contracts someone without the skills and qualifications to do the job. The interpreting profession rightly feel this is not just dangerous but also unfair. Why should someone without skills be employed over them. Especially when many have paid thousands of dollars to get to the skill level that they are at. Deaf people will point out that as customers they have the right of choice and know who they want and why. One way or the other this area is a huge sticking point that needs to be resolved.
  3. A little known fact is that if the Deaf person chooses to negotiate directly with an interpreter they technically become the employer. Potentially they could be liable for any accidents or injuries that may happen.  This could be if the interpreter has a car accident on the way, for example, or even repetitive strain injuries. The lack of insurance of many individual interpreters is why they stick with agencies rather than enter into individual agreements. This can be overcome through service agreements that outline clearly who is responsible for what. Nevertheless, it is a legal minefield with many risks and not one that many people are equipped to deal with.
  4. Potentially interpreters can get paid more if they go it alone. They could agree to work for an hour only and get paid $122 directly. I dare say this may be more than agencies pay. But add to this insurance costs, travel costs and the like I am not sure whether interpreters actually come out ahead.

These are just some of the issues that we are dealing with. The problem is that nothing seems to be happening to resolve these issues. While I sympathise with the dilemmas of the interpreters, as a consumer I am also very frustrated. I would like my interpreter dollars to go as far as they possibly can but in doing so I realise that this may put me in conflict with many in the interpreter industry. I might get 90 hours of interpreting a year but the reality is that this is really closer to 45 in the current climate given the two hour booking minimum.

I fully understand that to maintain the interpreter industry interpreters need to be paid properly and have their health and safety looked after. If they are loosing money or being undercut by potential cowboys/girls they will leave the industry. If they are injured  from overwork this will defeat the purpose and cause greater strain on an already stretched market.  At the same time I have every right to feel cheated that my 90 hours of interpreting is, in fact, closer to half of that because of current payment structures. Where does it all end?

We could try going to the NDIS  and say pay more, which will be a long journey and not likely to be successful. We can say to the NDIS they need a structure that means we must only employ qualified interpreters similar to Jobaccess and Auslan for Employment. That might be doable but again it would take time. Or we can look at the current pay structures and adjust and change them to fit in with the new NDIS climate so neither Deaf people nor interpreters are undersold. Don’t ask me how we will resolve the latter because it requires much discussion as well as a lot of give and take. There is no quick fix.

Potentially the NDIS is a godsend for Deaf people. I would hate for it all to come crashing down because of the issues that I have outlined. It is up to us to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Perhaps it should be our new year resolution for 2018 – develop a working model that will see both Deaf people and interpreters reap the benefits of the NDIS.

Let the hard work begin!

(With apologies for those over 65 who will never qualify for the NDIS – It is not fair!)



5 thoughts on “NDIS and Interpreting – A Revolution in Progress

  1. Sorry I’m not sure what the issue is. Most agencies charge $99 per hour inc gst for business hours and about $10 minimum more for outside hours.

    So there is sufficient funds in ndis.

    It’s the 2 hours minimum booking requirement that’s the issue not hourly rate. Your allocated funds will run out quickly.

    • That’s what was said … two hour minimum means actual hourly rate is closer to $200 … after hours is $222 … then travel time if over 40 k from CBD … means the hourly rate doesn’t work … if you go over two hours you need two as well so doubles again … so 90 hours interpreting not really that ..

  2. Good article Gary. As an employer of interpreters, I do want to add a supplementary comment if I may? Deaf people might feel cheated if their allocated hours is halved because of industry standards however might I suggest that as part of planning meetings, the Planners who will know about these standards (?) double the allocation.
    I would hate to see any angst towards interpreters because they’re getting paid 2 hours for jobs that might only be 15 minutes. Think of it as a minimum fee that covers the interpreters skill, time, travel, vehicle, insurance, superannuation, leave and sick pay; AND the policy has been around for years to protect interpreters where more than 90% of them are employed casually.

    Not many Deaf people have had to negotiate terms or have been familiar to interpreting policies and hopefully over time, Deaf people will also advocate to their planners to double their allocation of hours instead of feeling cheated. No one should lose out, it’s should be win-win.
    From Auslan Services experience, the NDIS has been a fantastic scheme and continues to create opportunities for all people in the community.

    • It is something that we are trying to make the NDIS aware of. As you know the
      knowledge across the sector varies and depending on your planner and your ability to dog advocate outcomes vary. Then of course as a LAC you might get an NDIS delegate who is not on board. Can be a lottery.

      For the record no one is cheating anyone. The goal posts have moved and we all have to find a way to score goals on an uneven playing field. It will take time and lots of discussions … this is just my contribution .. I hope others follow suit.

  3. Loved the story once again and loved the comment at the end so respectful and inclusive of all at a time whe. No one other than Deaf Elders Facebook Group seems to add this little footnote simply for Deaf Community Identity as a whole as constituents of Australia!!
    Cheers on that one

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