Who are we?
We are a vibrant international organisation with members from all over Europe. We are a large and diverse group of people, both deaf and hearing, who have come together in the fight against the systemic racism that pervades the signed language interpreting and translation profession.
Our members voted on the name Interpreters of Colour Network in the spirit of re-appropriating the derogatory term ‘coloured’ used to describe non-White people.
Support greater recognition of the needs of deaf people from our own communities
Fighting for better recognition, representation and equality in the signed language interpreting and translation profession
Challenging colonial attitudes towards race, ethnicity and culture
Asserting the value of culture brokering and experiences of growing up in a minority culture for professional interpreting practice
Supporting research that explores interpreting with ‘third cultures’, culture brokering, the impact of race, ethnicity and culture, and post-colonialist or deconstructionist approaches.
Advocating for an ethnographic approach in interpreter education
Challenging racism in the SLI profession and in society more generally
What do we do?
Our key areas of activity and objectives are:
Maintaining a website and online directory of interpreters of colour
In order to address the underrepresentation of interpreters of colour in the wider interpreting profession, we maintain an online directory of our members to showcase their skills and to offer deaf and hearing service users the option to book an interpreter based on cultural and/or social similarity.
We also maintain a public website and blog with general information about our work and about issues of race, ethnicity and culture brokering as an integral part of interpreting and translation practice.
Coordinating and delivering educational opportunities
We offer a range of workshops and webinars to the wider profession on a range of topics, many of which cover issues around race, ethnicity, culture and intersectionality in interpreting practice. In a profession that has traditionally been, and still is, predominately White, despite considerable ethnic diversity amongst the general UK and deaf populations, there is a need for interpreter education to consider issues of cultural and ethnic diversity and how this impacts the work we do.
We also offer training opportunities to our members on a range of topics; in particular, domain or skill-specific training in areas where there is significant underrepresentation of people of colour. This is in order to up-skill interpreters of colour by offering opportunities that may not be widely available.
Offering peer support services
We offer a range of voluntary and professional peer support services. We have a voluntary pool of ‘interpreter buddies’, who are experienced professional interpreters or translators willing to informally support trainee, newly qualified or less experienced interpreters in their particular area of expertise.
We also maintain a list of qualified professional mentors and supervisors of colour, so that members have the option to engage in mentoring or supervision with someone who has a similar life experience.
Our members also coordinate regional peer support groups.
Facilitating regional, national and international networking opportunities
Our membership is open to trainee and qualified sign language interpreters and translators in Europe, which makes us a vibrant international community. We organise meetings, events and networking opportunities at regional, national and international level.
Campaigning and social justice
We stand side-by-side with deaf ethnic minority associations in the fight to abolish racism from our society. We work closely with deaf and interpreting associations to campaign for a zero-tolerance approach to racism in our profession. We lobby professional associations, regulatory bodies and the government in order to campaign for a fairer and more equal society for everyone.
In the summer of 1997, five interpreters got together in north London. Those interpreters were Hetty May Bailey, the brain child, Loquessa Smart, Arusa Ghani, Zane Hema and Audrey Simmons. The aim was to create a network that would reach out to Black and Asian interpreters across the country. After much deliberation, we called this network BASLIN: Black and Asian sign Language interpreters Network.
During the five years that the network was running, it became a source of support for not only Black and Asian interpreters but also the Black Deaf community. We held regular meetings across the country and produced a newsletter, edited by Grace Peddie, with articles written by members. The membership was small and we had no funding, but we did have a directory with the names, contact details and additional language skills of our members.
BASLIN worked with the London Ethnic Minority Deaf Association (LEMDA), which was a Black Deaf-lead organisation supporting the cultural needs of the Black Deaf community. We also worked with the Asian Deaf Women Association (ADWA). We provided interpreting support for their training and events. We were in a unique position at the time. We were qualified interpreters with the extra language skills and cultural understanding that the Deaf community felt they needed.
In addition, we were lucky enough to be able to go to the USA to attend the National Association of Black interpreters (NAOBI) conferences that took place every year at different venues across the USA. We participated in training, met other Black interpreters and shared our story of what it was like to be a Black interpreter in the UK.
We also attended the National Deaf Advocates conference, which aimed to empower the Black Deaf community by offering peer support in a range of activities. We met Deaf educators, storytellers, Black Deaf professionals and Deaf elders, which we had never come across in the UK until then.
Fast-forward to July 2020 and the Interpreters of Colour Network has mushroomed in an incredibly short space of time. The catalyst was a two day performance theatre workshop set up by Jacqui Beckford in December 2019, aimed at non-White interpreters, exploring the under representation of black and brown interpreters working in the arts and performance domains. Many of the attendees felt that this workshop offered a safe space and prompted Azaria Francis to set up a WhatsApp group. The COVID-19 global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, instigating the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, coalesced and gave the group traction.
The difference this time is that in the BASLIN days we didn’t have WhatsApp, Zoom and the Internet. Technology has allowed us to connect with interpreters of colour from across the UK and Europe. We have gone from a workshop of 12 people to the vibrant international network that we see growing before us. The difference this time is we are a catalyst for change, deploying the wealth of talents and knowledge that our members possess.