June 2020

Why I started #WhereIsTheInterpreter’ – an interview with Lynn-Stewart Taylor

Ahmed Khalifa

Founder & Director at Hear Me Out! [CC]

7th April 2020

In an interview with Deaf consultant and BSL user Lynn-Stewart Taylor, I had the opportunity to talk to her about the campaign #WhereIsTheInterpreter and why she felt the need to start it.

Lynn Stewart-Taylor is spearheading the #WhereIsTheInterpreter campaign to improve lack of access for Deaf BSL users

Let’s get into the conversation with Lynn. She will tell you more about #WhereIsTheInterpreter.

I just want to thank you for being here, Lynn, for talking about the #WhereIsTheInterpreter.

I would like to start off with a background about yourself on your involvement in the Deaf community, your role, your job and all these things. I just want people to get a brief understanding of who you are and get an idea of why you are passionate about this topic as well.

But I just want to get to know a bit more about you, so can you describe yourself a bit more about your background?

Okay. Well as you know, my name is Lynn. I’ve been Deaf all of my life and I’m a sign language user. I was born in Jersey, come from a very female dominated large family, so girl power there.

Growing up I had huge amounts of barriers and lack of access to different situations, had lots of frustrations.

As I got older, I started to think that actually maybe something could be done about this. I didn’t want the next generation of deaf children to experience the barriers that I had, but obviously at the moment we’re still fighting and that’s still going on.

If you talk about my career, I’ve had many different careers, but I’ll just narrow it down.

I’m a Deaf consultant. That’s more about raising deaf awareness, raising BSL awareness, trying to get access to different services because sadly we’re still so limited and we have still so many barriers to access.

I’ve been working within the media as well, I’m a writer. I wrote a film called Hope . It was based on a true story.


I have many hats and I’ve been involved in many different projects.

However, this is a very new thing for me. This campaigning really is not my area of expertise in all fairness, but it’s something that really touched such a nerve with me about the fact that

We weren’t being treated equally, we’re not getting access to information.

Things just aren’t fair, so that’s made me feel like now’s the time to speak out and kind of let’s really shout as loudly as we can in sign language.

That makes sense. It’s why I wanted to talk to you about it because I’ve got my own type of deafness, level of deafness, so for someone like me, I don’t require interpreters, most of the time anyway.

Sometimes I do find them useful at conferences, but I prefer to have captions, subtitles, of course proper captions. But for me, I will not be the right person to understand the benefit of having interpreters on stage and conference.

That’s why I wanted to talk to you about it. I really want to get more into the details about why did you start the hashtag #WhereIsTheInterpreter.

I think at the moment I’m feeling the same as everybody. I’m anxious, I’m worried. The global health crisis is happening. It’s not just localised, it’s everywhere.

This is a life and death situation. It’s making me very anxious. I’ve not been able to get full access to information to know how to protect myself and how to protect others.

We’re really experiencing a lack of access to information on our own language. There are 120,000 possibly more, BSL-using people in the UK and lots of us are experiencing frustrations.

That’s making our anxieties worse, it’s affecting our mental health.

There’s lots of stuff going out with social media and I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness, is it okay to go out? Can I, can I not? What are the rules?” When I’ve seen everything, it’s really affected me. I’ve just thought if it’s affecting me, it must be affecting lots of other people.

We’ve set up two Facebook groups, which I know aren’t necessarily ideal to those people that aren’t IT literate perhaps, but at least I felt like we was doing something.

One of the Facebook groups is volunteering in a support group , Deaf translator/BSL interpreter Volunteer Responses so that was interpreters offering their time to help maybe other deaf people that are isolated to contact their family members, make telephone calls, get access to information.

On that, big shout-out to the interpreters there who have kindly volunteered their time and their services there, particularly things like people were perhaps getting letters from their GP saying, “Don’t go out. You’ve got to self-isolate for 12 weeks.” and they might not necessarily understand that letter, so the interpreters are there to be able to help reassure them and clarify things and that will minimise stress levels.

The other Facebook page Deaf Stay At Home – Oneline Community is really about information and access. We’re getting information at such a late stage compared to the hearing community.

They’re getting the breaking news as and when it happens live, we have to wait. We have to wait and wait and wait and maybe we might not get it until the evening when other deaf organisations have taken it upon themselves to translate that information.

That’s not necessarily their responsibility, but the knock-on effect is that we are so far behind in getting that breaking news and that info.

That’s really what made me create those two Facebook pages and we are going through a crisis at the moment and we all need to pull together.

Then a lot of people would then ask the question, “Isn’t the captions enough? Why do we need interpreters? Why can’t you just watch it in captions and that’s it?”

I can only speak for myself, I mean, I don’t know if everybody will agree because obviously as you know, we are all different.

I grew up using sign language, English is my second language, it’s not native to me.

My second language becomes much more problematic perhaps, so it would be like somebody going to France that maybe has a tiny bit of pigeon French and then there’s a breaking news story all in French, but then they do the subtitles in English but you’re just trying to pick up bits and bobs from it.

Everything’s rattling off at such a pace, and then at the end you’re just trying to piece together bits and bobs. You maybe can’t remember everything. They might have been a lot of overwhelming information there because it’s not our first language.

We’re having to process, we’re having to reach out to other people and then that becomes the thing of like Chinese whispers, so we’re putting ourselves at risk and we’re putting others at risk.

I think how are we supposed to protect the NHS if we cannot follow those main government guidelines? Boris Johnson and the government really need to think about the 87,000 Deaf people in the UK to get access to the information.

The Welsh government, the Scottish government, they have provided sign language interpreters, even New Zealand, Australia, other countries around the world.

But here in the UK there’s been such a lack of information or access to information for us in our first and preferred language.

That’s what I don’t understand, is if other countries can do it, then I don’t understand why down in street they couldn’t do it at all. I’m really confused by that.

It makes a lot of sense for me because I mainly communicate with English, spoken English and written English. It makes sense because if I try to understand emergency information in French or Spanish or any other languages, then of course I will be very confused.

So it makes sense for me that you’d want to understand the information in your chosen first language. It makes a lot of sense. But then people would say, “Oh, caption’s enough, caption is there, get on with it.”

My argument is that people will say, “Use caption.” but I think we both know that auto-captions are, to put it nicely, useless. It’s just really frustrating for me when I see all the caption and people just say, “Just watch that and you’d be fine.”

Whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s from the movies, whether it’s news broadcast, people say, “Don’t worry about it. There’ll be auto-captions.”

That must be even more frustrations, nevermind if it’s proper speech-to-text, a person doing their auto-caption using technology and you have to depend on that, it must be even more confusing for you.

Yeah. They’ve been giving a daily news briefing every day. Obviously there’s normally three government officials there, could be any mixture of… It could be the medical advisor or Boris Johnson or whoever. There’s usually three of them.

Hearing people are confused at the information that’s coming out. They’re having to question, they’re having to phone in, they’re having to read up on the news, look on the internet. If the hearing communities are confused, just imagine how the Deaf community are feeling.

We are still unclear of the processes and the procedures. People have been asking, “Is it okay for me to get in the car and go for a drive and visit people?” I think if they were stopped by the police, I mean they could get a fine, would it be their fault? I would say not.

I would say it’s the fact that they’ve had limited access to information.

There are so many far reaching consequences from this. This is why I’ve been asking, right, “Please any information, please consider having an interpreter.”

I do appreciate BBC News. They had an interpreter on the screen that is potentially there for a very brief time in the afternoon, which I do appreciate.

But we have to remember that not everybody’s got access to those channels. Other people may just have analogue TVs.

They may just have BBC One, ITV, BBC Two and that’s it. There are deaf people that are not getting access to the BBC News channel, so how are they getting their information?

They may well have received Boris Johnson’s letter and be thinking, “I might get this. What’s that?” They may well be thinking, “What’s going on in the world?”

I mean, for us, sign languages people what we must be going through. That’s why this issue urgently needs to be addressed.

This can’t be put on the back burner. This isn’t something that we need a consultation on in two or three weeks time, we need to be actioning it now, right now.

We are in a national emergency situation. I said it before, I’m going to say it again, there’s 120,000 sign language people in this country. They really need their access, which is why I’ve been banging on and promoting that hashtag on a daily basis.

I will continue to do so because enough is enough, we’re in 2020 for goodness sake. This isn’t just some little bit of information that’s going out, this is important to us.

I agree and that’s why I wanted to talk about it as well. I’ve done my own video about this and I made a point that this is not just some YouTube video where it’s showing you how to do some kind of hobby or some little fun video or stuff like that.

No, this is life and death. This is serious. We have an emergency.

For me, I would have thought that automatically you’d assume that you will want to get the message across to as many people as possible and hat will benefit everyone.

I made a point as well that it’s not just for those who are d/Deaf they need information, but it will also protect people around them.

Because if the d/Deaf people are not getting information then that could put other people around them at risk as well. I don’t understand why that’s not important enough for the government anyway.

It really confused me. Naturally when I saw the petition going on and people are saying, “We must have all live emergency broadcast, we must have it with sign language interpreter, not just now but in the future.”

The petition went out and I find it and over 10,000 people have also signed it. It’s supposed to get a response from a government, but it’s been over a week later and we haven’t heard anything.

Screenshot of government petition to "require British Sign Language interpreters for emergency announcements on TV" with 15,266 signatures but government has not responded after attracted more than the required 10,000 signatures to receive a response


What am I missing? Why do you think interpreters are not used in this situation? Is there something that I’m missing? Why do you think the government are ignoring this plea, this call out for, “Please help us.”?

I mean this is a very unique situation for all of us. Coronavirus, this is a very new thing so I can’t answer why the government don’t seem to be listening. I mean that may well be a question for you to ask them directly.

I think we probably need to be thinking about the fact that things aren’t working, the policies aren’t robust enough. I think we keep trying to push the point, but they seem to be very weak. I mean they may well be okay for other characteristics, but for sign language community we’ve seen it.

The policies that we have here, like The Equality Act 2010 and The Disability Discrimination Act that was set in 2005, I don’t think they are robust enough. I don’t think they really protect deaf sign language citizens at all. I mean the BSL Act.

We’re in a national crisis. We should be getting live access as it happens. It’s not happening.

I think the policies are very, very vague. It’s been vague to pick out quotes from the policies and the acts, so we seem to be banging the drums for many, many times, but not getting any information. I’ve started the #WhereIsTheInterpreter hashtag on March the 9th, and we’re in April now.

We’re human too. We live in the UK, we’re British citizens. I feel like we’re being treated as second or third rate citizens really. I’ve got a family, I’ve got friends, I’ve got feelings too. I’m important too and please consider us.

Very, very frustrating time for me I must’ve admit, and I’m sure for lots of other sign language people it’s the same. I just really hope they’re going to look into it. I think hard to predict what they’re thinking.

Like I said, maybe that’s a question for you to ask them.

I wish I can ask them myself as well because I don’t have any answers. The one thing that I’m wondering whether… Here in Scotland, we have The BSL Act and I do wonder whether because of that, is that why we’re seeing interpreters when we’re having these emergency broadcasts or daily broadcasting updates.

The National newspaper with headline 'UK government urged to use sign language on coronavirus briefings'

Source: The National

Maybe that’s why, maybe that’s something that the country needs. I don’t know, but I feel like that has helped a little bit as well.

Yes. Yeah, I would agree with that. Absolutely agree with that. I mean there have been organisations that have been pulling together to try and lobby parliament looking at The Equality’s Act 2010 but it didn’t seem to be strong enough.

I know one of the leaders of the Act that passed away, and that was Terry Riley, I know that he campaigned for many, many years. He’s got maybe himself and his quote was “Enough is Enough.”

I totally agreed with that. He fought and fought and fought the fight for years with The Equality Act and The Disability Discrimination Act. It’s still not been enough to protect Deaf people. It’s kind of meaningless really. It’s not really highlighted. The access to British Sign Language isn’t really highlighted strongly enough in there.

I’m hoping that maybe from this the organisations are going to really fight The BSL Act to be put in place here because we don’t seem to have any policies that are robust and strong enough to really, really bring that call to action to the forefront.

That makes a lot of sense. Then let’s just say they have everything in place in terms of the BSL Act or all these things to ensure that in the future they’re going to have interpreters at those daily broadcasting, especially when it’s life and death, then they’re going to have it.

What are the best practises in terms of having an interpreter on the stage and then the recording of it?

Because when I see other countries that are doing it, I’ve seen some people complain about how it was done. For example, when it was done remotely, the screen where the interpreter is on it’s very, very small and you can’t really see them. It doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes people are saying, “Oh, I prefer that to have that person on stage and not remotely.” I’m not the best person to know what is the best practise, so could you tell us in terms of the situation like this where it’s an emergency, what’s the best way to have interpreted? Onstage, remotely, separate screen…?

On stage. Absolutely.

We did have an amazing week, one week we had interpreters for a whole week interpreting those news broadcasts in the afternoon. They weren’t in the room. They were in a separate studio, obviously.

We have to think about the cost implications, the resources, the time delays, the subtitling. It was quite a feat. But actually, if we could have just had them live on platform, I would think that would have been ideal.

Other countries, as I’ve said, have managed to produce that, which is amazing. So they’re getting the same information, the same time as everybody else and it’s equal access for everybody. At the moment….

….we’re getting very shaky information at a very late stage.

Sometimes things are recorded and then streamed later on, but they always seem to cut off the interpreter, so trying to watch it later on is no good.

We, sign language community always seem to be the last to know these vital pieces of information and that leaves us feeling very, very undervalued. I mean it’s a very sad situation.

That’s the one thing that frustrates me a lot on social media, when you see all these videos and they seemingly there are important videos that we need to be informed about how to wash your hands or the latest updates, or what you need to do and they’re not captioned.

Again, it’s not just for us, and it’s not just for d/Deaf people either, those captions can benefit so many people you know.

Anybody who are maybe they’re watching it in silence or maybe they have learning disability or maybe English is not their first language so they want to read in English instead, there are so many benefits.

I share some of your frustration when there are important information being brought broadcasted and you can’t really consume that.

It’s very annoying, very, very annoying and that’s why I talk about it a lot why caption and… Interpreting it is one thing but touching is very beneficial for more people than people think.

But at the same time I can appreciate interpreters if it doesn’t fit the situation. I am seeing now on social media, different countries are showing the president or prime minister, there is the interpreter right there.

But what I am also seeing is that seemingly hearing people, they enjoy mocking them and they enjoy trying to impersonate them and almost use it as entertainment for them because then they record themselves mocking them and copying and then they share it on social media.

From your perspective because it is not something that’s going to be something that I would understand, how does it make you feel when you see people mocking sign language and interpreters as well?

I think when I see something like that, I think… It does happen. It shows their lack of awareness, they’re lack of understanding. Maybe if they understood a bit more than then perhaps wouldn’t mock quite so much.

Unfortunately we see that ever such a lot in everyday life. I see it, yeah, I think it’s childish. I think it’s not worth watching. I think you are always going to get people that mock somebody else.

I think it’s down to their own ignorance and their lack of understanding. I personally wouldn’t waste my time watching it and trying to change it because I think we’ve just got much more important things at the moment. We need to make sure people are safe.

Jeremy Clarkson mocking sign language interpreter facial expression beside Boris Johnson by asking "Can those who sign tell me what on earth Boris is saying here?"


We need to make sure people understand what to do. I think if a dperson contracts COVID-19, they end up in hospital, how are they going to be communicated with?

All of the hospital staff have got their masks on. They’re in full-face visors. Goodness me, I can’t even allow myself to think that far ahead. I just have to hope and pray that that doesn’t happen.

It’s so, so scary. Very, very scary times.

At the moment, the lack of interpreters on the live broadcast are very, very frustrating. I think we need to understand what is coronavirus, what is happening, what is Boris Johnson’s four main rules if you like? We’re not guessing that.

I worry that if a deaf person contracts coronavirus would they understand what to do. I worry about that.

And then when they do get medical assistance, they’re not going to be able to understand anybody because they’ve got their masks on. I think the anxiety is huge. I think we weren’t very well prepared.

I would be urging deaf people to plan how they would contact people and how they would protect themselves. Maybe protecting themselves, but maybe thinking about how they contact their families.

(Update Service) Now we can use BSL Health Access. Providing online remote access within non-emergency health care setting. Clear two-way access to communication between Deaf BSL users and health care professionals.


I don’t think the government or the national public health authorities have really thought about a backup plan to help deaf sign language people.

I don’t know, I think that there’s a much bigger issue there. I think the other deaf organisations can all get together and stand as one and support one another.

What can the rest of us do then? For those who are watching, listening, reading, and they want to help with the #WhereIsTheInterpreter and push it out, what can the rest of us do

That includes the hearing people as well, what can people do to make sure that the message is heard?

Contact your MP. Just ask your MP, show them the video, tag them in, tag them into the #WhereIsTheInterpreter. That seems to be the main aim for the campaign. Lots of deaf organisations are using #WhereIsTheInterpreter.

I think that’s where we’re showing that we need the action now. This isn’t something that we can just sit on and say, “Yes, okay, we’ll look at it in a week or so.”

Have interpreters in place, try and think about how they would contact somebody for assistance. They’re not going to be able to get a live interpreter in the hospital, so thinking about your access to services. I think there are so many different things that we need to think about, but we need to be planning that right now.

Hearing people seem to have a plan in place. I know the NHS are under so much pressure, I just want to give a big applause to them, absolutely. I mean, to them have to think about how to communicate with a deaf person.

I think we need to help them and we need to really think about that and that’s where our focus needs to be.

I think even if they had an organisational or list, perhaps, of who to contact if deaf people get admitted. I’ve had so many people contact me on my various groups saying,

“If I get ill, how am I going to communicate? Can I have a friend with me? Do I have to go by myself? Can I take an interpreter?”

It’s really affecting on mental health. I will not be surprised if we see the numbers of deaf people suffering from mental health rocket through this. 

Really important to have our Deaf Stay At Home Facebook group, which is where we can help each other. We can encourage each other to communicate in sign language. We can share information. We can talk about our emotional wellbeing and our feelings.

I think there are so many deaf people are feeling extremely isolated at the moment, very, very worrying times. I know everybody’s worried, absolutely. I know the whole world is worried, but I think we’re a very, very isolated minority community.

It’s even worse for deaf people.

We haven’t even touched on those with a dual sensory loss like deaf-blind people. There are so many minority groups that are experiencing barriers to access to this vital information and how to get help.

I mean, I could go on and on and on. I mean, even contacting your GP? You can’t even go to the GP, and deaf people are saying, “Why? Why can’t I go to my GP?” And they say, “No, I’m okay. I can go out for a walk.”

I’ve had to reiterate information over and over and over again and that’s not really one person’s responsibility. It should be the government’s responsibility.

Lots of deaf organisations are trying to provide daily updates and we could support in other areas and we could work with the government just to make effective communication take place.

We should be standing as one.

I’m making sure that these policies and procedures are in place and the backup and the support is there as and when it’s needed. At the moment it’s all happening on a very ad hoc basis.

It makes a lot of sense for me because I can relate to what you’re saying. I’m not profoundly deaf, but it doesn’t mean that I have that feeling of isolation, I do.

That isolation is not nice and you feel it even more now. I know what you mean about going to the doctor or a dentist and they put on the mask and you can’t lip read them. I hate that, it’s just frustrating for me.

Yeah, so many situation where I can relate to what you’re saying. But I guess I have that extra benefit where I can hear something and I can read the articles or news on my first language or chosen language and I can understand that, okay, I have maybe a bit more of a headstart than those who are sign language users for example.

I just hope that this interview will get that message across because suddenly now I think I’m seeing a momentum happening. I’ve noticed even before recording this, before doing an interview, the video being shared now on Facebook of that montage and people are saying, “Don’t forget about us. We do exist, we are human, we are here.”

There are even people in that video, they are key workers, essential workers yet they are ignored as well.

I find that just baffling for me. I don’t understand that, they’re supposed to be key workers but are still ignored. I’m sure hearing people who are key workers are ignored as well but it’s scary.

I really, really do hope that people get the message about all of this. I hope Downing Street we’ll get the message eventually from all your campaigning and your pushing the #WhereIsTheInterpreter. I just hope that it will help.

Is there any more thing that you want to say, any final thing that you want to round up so that we can make sure that the message is heard?

I mean, I just want to say that I know the government are under immense pressure, as all the NHS. I absolutely understand the ongoing crisis and I do appreciate what the NHS has been doing for us. I know that this will add to the government’s pressure, but I really hope they action it.

Boris Johnson’s got his own job, interpreters’ they’ve got their job, they can work together and then we can support Boris Johnson and help save the NHS and protect the NHS and protect ourselves and others, and we can follow Boris Johnson’s key message.

And then when we do receive the letter from Boris Johnson we’re going to understand it. I think if we receive it now, nobody’s really going to understand it that well. I think the main takeaway message is, please share the #WhereIsTheInterpreter.

Please highlight that to your local media teams, your newspapers, your MP. I think once we could get an interpreter in place, we can then support each other. I know it’s not a great time for campaigning, but this is our life too. 

This is our life too, and we’re all human. We all matter. We just need access in our preferred and chosen language. We want access to those services. We’re scared too.

I don’t think I need to add any more to that. It makes a lot of sense to me and I’d be very surprised if people don’t understand that as well. I just wanted to thank you for your time, for explaining all of this.

I think it’s a great opportunity to get into more details and I hope, again, the message is heard and pushed out even more. I appreciate it. I really do appreciate your time for you Lynn. Thank you Helen, also for being here to help.

It’s something that is not going to affect my life directly, I don’t require interpreter, but I still think it’s important that people in the Deaf community are protected and treated the same as everyone else that’s why I care. That’s why we should all care.

I don’t think there’s anything bad about that. Thank you very much for your time, both of you. I really do appreciate it and thank you Lynn as well.

Thank you, Ahmed. Thank you so much for supporting, thank you for listening. I really hope other people pick up your mantle too.

Remember, #WhereIsTheInterpreter.

Thank you Lynn for the interview. It’s such an important campaign and I think we should all take part.

In social media, lot of things like that can make a difference as Lynn had described. It just makes sense, it not only protects d/Deaf people, but it protects the rest of us as well.

So it makes a lot of sense for #WhereIsTheInterpreter to be pushed out to the UK government, they need to be aware of it.

Things may have changed by the time you listen to this podcast or read the transcript. Maybe things have changed.

But it’s not just about now, even in the future, you never know where there’s going to be important information that the nation needs to know about. It would be great to have interpreter there as well.

Thank you for listening to the podcast, for reading the transcript. Make sure that you subscribe and also to leave a review on iTunes, I would really appreciate it, just so that the message can be heard by more people.

More people need to be informed about news like this. I think it’s really important, with the help of your support, that we can get that message out there.

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