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Communication support professionals

Photo: Find out about communication support professionals for deaf people.

Communication support professionals are highly qualified individuals who can help with communication between a deaf person and a hearing person.

They usually specialise in a particular communication method or service.
They can provide support in lots of different situations and environments. For example, in a school, in the workplace, university, a courtroom or in a GP consultation.

Different types of communication support professionals

British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters

BSL interpreters are highly trained professionals who interpret what is being said from English into BSL and vice versa. They can help with communication between a BSL-user and a spoken language user.

You should only book qualified interpreters who are registered with one of the following professional bodies:

Speech-to-text reporters (STTR)/palantypists

STTRs, also known as palantypists, type a word-for-word account of what’s being said during a meeting or event, which then appears on screen in real time for a deaf person to read. This service can also be provided remotely at a lower cost. This type of communication support is only suitable for deaf people who can read at pace.

We recommend only booking qualified STTRs who are registered with a professional body such as the:

Communication support workers (CSW)

A CSW can offer BSL interpretation in situations where a fully qualified interpreter might not be needed or if they need to provide more flexible communication support. They may offer support in a variety of ways such as BSL interpretation, notetaking, or adapting materials.

CSWs are not suitable for interpreting more complex conversations that might include specialist terms or jargon. All CSWs should be qualified to a minimum of BSL Level 3 standard.

Lipspeakers

A lipspeaker is a specially trained hearing person who repeats another person’s words without using their own voice so that a deaf person can lip read. They relay what’s being said through clear lip patterns following the natural pace and rhythm of speech. They may also cut out any redundant information and use some gestures and fingerspelling to clarify the message.

Only book qualified lipspeakers who are registered with a professional body, such as:

Notetakers

Notetakers write notes for a deaf person who can’t make their own while they are lipreading or watching an interpreter.

When to provide a communication support professional

Always check first with the deaf child or young person, or their family, about what support best suits them. Their needs may be different depending on the environment and activity. For example, they may need an interpreter or STTR for large meetings or events but not for a one-on-one meeting or in a less informal setting.

How to book a communication support professional

Allow a minimum of two to three weeks to book an interpreter or palantypist. Allow more time to book lip speakers because there are very few.

Check the NRCPD website for communication support professionals in your area.

Ask other organisations in your network if they have communication support workers they use and can recommend.

If booking through an agency, ensure you make it very clear that you want to book fully qualified people.

At the time of booking, include a clear explanation of what the event or activity involves and how many attendees will be there. Be prepared to send any relevant materials or documents to them ahead of the event or activity.

Using registered professionals

At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we only promote the use of communication support professionals who are fully registered as this means that they meet any minimum standards.

All registered BSL/English interpreters and STTRs should follow the National Registers of Communication Professionals Working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) guidelines. They are bound by a Code of Conduct which includes confidentiality. They are also subject to a complaints and disciplinary procedure. NRCPD registered STTRs should also hold an ID badge.

When you might need two or more communication support professionals

Communication support (written or signed) is physically and mentally tiring. Two professionals may be needed to work together to ensure that the deaf person has continuous access to information. Co-workers are also able to monitor each other and work together to make sure no information is missed.

Communication support professionals will discuss their requirements with you when booking.

For more information, take a look at the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters’ (NUBSLI) Interpreter Awareness Guide.

Finding budget for a communication support professional

It is important to establish a budget for any communication support that may be required, even if you currently have no deaf children or young people engaged in your organisation or activities. You want to be able to meet any requests to provide communication support as they arise. Also, the cost will vary depending on the professional, agency and where you live.

It's also important to check what communication needs a deaf child or young person has first so that you know whether they need a communication support professional for all of the event/activity or only at specific times.

Different funding options

  • Find out if there is budget available within your organisation for communication support.
  • If there is no internal budget, you may consider finding external funding. Research grant providers and any specific funding posts in your local area.
  • Depending on the nature of your organisation and how deaf young people are involved, they may be able to apply to Access to Work. For example, if they are employed or are completing an apprenticeship, traineeship, supported internship or work experience placement. 
  • If funds are not available locally, or you are a volunteer-led organisation and are unable to afford the cost, there are other options to consider. For example, you could ask your head office to provide budget for communication support or to provide training for your staff or volunteers to learn BSL.
  • If you are a leisure activity organisation, you could also research short breaks funding and local authority funding for leisure activities.
  • Some parents and guardians may have access to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independent Payments (PIP) or other direct payments and may choose to use this money to pay for a professional BSL interpreter to support their child during activities. Please note: this is at the parent’s discretion. In this situation you must still check that any other necessary reasonable adjustments are in place.

Top tips for working with communication support professionals

  • Provide information to the communication support professional beforehand. Explain what the event, meeting or activity will involve, who they are providing communication for, whether it is formal or informal or if there is a dress code. If there will be presentations, provide them with copies of the slides and notes from any speakers so that they can prepare in advance.
  • If a STTR is being used, make sure the presentation slides are formatted so that the text can be clearly seen on the same screen without blocking anything.
  • Agree with those using communication support where they would like you and the interpreter to stand or sit, so that they can see clearly.
  • Always talk to the deaf child or young person/group directly, not to the communication support professional. Even if everyone else is looking at the communication support professional and not you.
  • Take your time talking. It is hard work translating into BSL!
  • Make sure there are breaks. It is very tiring watching a communication support professional for a long time.
  • When you ask a question, wait for the communication support professional to finish so that everyone has a chance to respond.
  • Allow time for the deaf child or young person to look at the communication support professional and then the board or flip chart before talking again.
  • Use any gestures or BSL signs you know, even if a communication support professional is present. This helps you build a relationship with the deaf child or young person.
  • Think very carefully about the suitability of the room. Try to avoid turning lights down to show films or video clips. If the lights do have to be turned down, think about whether a spotlight could be used for interpreters or lipspeakers. If you’re using a video, make sure that they include subtitles.
  • If you’re using a digital platform, make sure you know what functions are available, such as allowing deaf participants to pick who they want to ‘pin’ to the screen, enabling a spotlight function, knowing what captions are available and how to integrate an STTR. Be aware of any constraints such as a delay in captions and adjust the speed of the session accordingly.