What assessment has the Commission made of providing British Sign Language translation for the broadcast of Plenary proceedings?
We started providing BSL interpretation for First Minister’s Questions, in partnership with S4C and the Wales Council for Deaf People, in October 2013. These sessions were shown on the ‘Y Dydd yn y Cynulliad’ programme on S4C.
When ‘Y Dydd yn y Cynulliad’ came to an end in April 2016, the Commission agreed to take on the responsibility for operating and funding this service. It is now shown on Senedd TV and our YouTube channel. At present, we are the only legislature in the UK that provides this regular service, and while we are not bound by Ofcom guidelines, our provision of BSL interpretation for every First Minister’s Questions session comes to around 5% of total public Assembly business, matching the total BSL output guidelines set for broadcasters.
We conduct regular reviews of the service with our host broadcaster. During its early days, the interpretation was conducted ‘as live’. This caused problems for interpreters given that the proceedings were mainly unscripted, were fast paced and often included complicated terminology. Following investment in our broadcasting systems in 2014, we have been able to record and play back the session, giving the interpreter time to watch and review it before they start providing the interpretation. This has improved the accuracy and quality of the service and has been warmly welcomed by the interpreters and users.
We have previously explored extending the provision of BSL interpretation to include the wider Plenary proceedings and to Committees. However, the BSL interpreters have real concerns about their ability to accurately interpret live discussions, given the pace and complexity of proceedings. Our parliamentary and technical language causes further problems – we use terms for which there is no BSL equivalent. We currently only have one studio set up to provide the service, so covering multiple committee meetings at the same time would require further investment.
The interpretation service is available on request, and we recently signed the Debate on the Petitions Committee report on improving Access to Education and Services in British Sign Language. We could seek to extend BSL interpretation to other Minister’s Questions sessions, or to cover an entire Plenary session on a more regular basis. This would require more BSL interpreters and we estimate this would add at least £30,000-£40,000 per year to the current cost of the service.