Team behind new Uber-style website aim to revolutionise how we book interpreters

bookONE instruction graphic

BSL user Edward Richards noticed that he had little control over how interpreters were booked – his options were either to spend hours contacting people directly or use up valuable funds on agency fees. So he has joined forces with an interpreter and a website designer to create a booking website. He tells the BDN why he thinks deaf people and interpreters alike will benefit from bookONE.

Britain has 105,000 deaf BSL users and 1,100 registered sign language interpreters, 29 lip speakers and 16 deafblind interpreters. This equates to one interpreter for every 95 deaf BSL users.  So it’s not surprising that we have so many challenges in finding an interpreter at short notice.

Booking an interpreter directly, especially at the last minute, is a tall order – think about all those times you’ve whipped out your phone and texted 20 interpreters and emailed another 20 before posting a desperate call out on Facebook.

The alternative to contacting many interpreters direct is booking via expensive agencies, which pushes the cost up. The system was financially ineffective but using agencies, at least, allowed us to get on with our work and living our lives – so many of us used them.

The cuts bite

But then the public sector cuts began making themselves felt, with less funding for interpreters with Access to Work reducing the hourly rate for communication support. This left us having to choose between spending hours emailing interpreters to save on agency fees or use up our budget on agency fees and have less support.

It’s not only Access to Work users that are affected: time-poor students who have to use agencies can run out of their valuable Disability Student Allowance funds before the end of the academic year, leaving them without interpreters or notetakers just as exam season is approaching.

Other markets have utilised technology to deliver services at less cost to the user, with more ease and flexibility – look at how Uber has transformed how people book taxis, for example. There have been attempts to set up online booking portals but, by and large, how people book interpreters and other communication professionals has not changed much in over 10 years apart from an increase in the use of agencies to book communication support which has of course led to less value for money, lower standards and a reduction in rates for interpreters.

Time to change

I wanted to change this. So did Jen Smith and Adam Evans so we came together to find an alternative way. Each of us has a different connection to the Deaf community and a different skill set and experience which makes bookONE unique.

I have extensive knowledge of designing materials that are accessible and inclusive. I’m also an active member of the Deaf community and am a long-time user of interpreters. So I have first-hand experience of the barriers deaf people face with interpreter bookings – and the frustrations that come with this.

Jen is an interpreter and knows the agency model does not work for us all. She wants interpreters and other communication professionals to be able to work for sustainable rates and be easily booked by either deaf people or those who need to communicate with deaf people.

Adam, our technology guru, has deaf parents. He loves building projects that no one has done before and that offer unique solutions utilising technology.

A new booking system

Together we have come up with bookONE. Built from scratch by Adam with the deaf user in mind, bookONE is a direct booking service with no agency costs involved, just a booking fee (similar to the model used by Airbnb). We think it will simplify every aspect of finding and arranging an interpreter.

A deaf person will be able to use the bookONE website to book an interpreter or another type of communication support such as a notetaker or whatever they prefer. They will be able to enter the date and time into the system and a list of available professionals will be displayed and then choose the interpreter they prefer. A message will be sent to the interpreter who can then click to accept the job. The deaf person will get another message confirming that the interpreter is now booked.

There are additional resources: for example, you can create your own preferred list. Also, as with Uber, you will be able to leave reviews on the website, rating LSPs in terms of attitude, punctuality, clarity, appearance and conduct. This system will use these ratings to work out an average score for interpreters, meaning the website will help other deaf people to choose someone.

Interpreters will also have more choice by using this system: They will be able to choose preferred working locations, domains they like and are skilled at working in and they know that their fees won’t be squeezed by disproportionate agency fees. They
also benefit from direct and therefore more efficient bookings, reduced
travel time, sustainable fees, more control and flexible working hours.

LSPs and users’ Google and iCal calendars will be kept in sync with bookONE and vice versa and this happens automatically based on the particular internet calendar’s settings and need only be set up once.

We are a social enterprise which will allow us to do things differently. We have set up VoiVis – a community interest company –so that a percentage of profit can be redirected to projects that will benefit the Deaf community.

We believe that the benefits of the service will be wide-ranging and will have the potential to revolutionise the way that users book interpreters, which will in turn give you deaf people greater life chances in employment and education and building stronger communities and shaping future service delivery. We think that bookONE will finally offer a system that is fair, transparent and puts control back in the hands of users – deaf people!

bookONE will be going live in the spring. If you use it, do let us at the BDN know what you think.