2021 census


A demographic snapshot of the profession:

Webinar presenters Prof Jemina Napier and Dr Christopher Stone

BSL interpreters and translators: Who are they?

This month I attended a webinar hosted by VLP with Jemina Napier and Chris Stone. They presented the findings from a profile of the profession in the UK; the ‘2021 census’ project. Funded by ASLI in collaboration with universities; Harriot Watt, Wolverhampton and the university of the West of Scotland.

The 2021 Census of sign language translators & interpreters in the UK: Executive Summary

Jemina Napier:
Professor and chair of Intercultural Communication in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Due to a lack of general information about how the sign language translation and interpreting (SLTI) profession is structured, and concerns about the lack of diversity and equality of opportunities in the SLTI profession, the Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK (ASLI) commissioned the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland at Heriot-Watt University to conduct a census survey study.

Its goal was to establish a baseline profile of sign language interpreters’ and translators’ training and/or working in the UK. With this in mind a census was conducted to obtain a snapshot of the demographic profile of SLTI practitioners in the UK in February 2021 in order to inform the planning and forecasting of the workforce, to inform education and training needs, and to identify gaps in community representation.

Chris Stone:
Reader in Interpreting and Translation
University of Wolverhampton, Department of Social Science, Inclusion and Public Protection,, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.
1 Mar 2019

To ensure diversity in the research team, HWU established a research team with the University of Wolverhampton and the University of the West of Scotland. An advisory group was also established to ensure representation from stakeholders across the sector from sign language teachers, sign language interpreters/translators and their representative organisations. Research team and advisory group members are listed above.

A census style questionnaire was developed in consultation with the advisory group, and with reference to relevant literature and other censuses. In total, complete survey responses were received from 690 practitioners from across the UK (43% of the potential sample).

The survey responses were analysed using SPSS statistical software specifically to look at the relationships between female versus male respondents; ethnic minorities1 versus White British respondents; respondents who identified as LGBTQIA+ versus ‘Straight’ with respect to: part-time versus full-time work; caring responsibilities; high status work (i.e., conference and TV in-vision work); and route to qualification (higher education versus vocational). This report provides an overview of the findings, along with discussion of the profile of the SLTI profession in the UK, and suggested recommendations for actions for key stakeholder organisations.

2021 Census project

Census questionnaire

The census questionnaire was a self administrated questionnaire; 74 questions across 5 themes:

1. Demographics and intersectional background

2. Language and social background with the deaf community

3. Current professional status

4. Training background

5. Work pattern including COVID considerations

Although 690 participants completed the questionnaire; 43%. Another 132 began the questionnaire but did not complete it. 50% is consider adequate.

Recommendations: 20 across 5 categories


1-6 diversity/representation in the SLTI profession; recruitment of diversity

7-10 marketing/promotion of the SLTI profession; who do we see (role models)

11-14 SLTI training/education; diverse representation in educators and trainers and training routes

15-18 SLTI practice; who works where and why. Guideline development

19-20 Future/on going review; ASLI develop a working group from the study group of this census

There is much work to be done in ensuring the SLTI profession is representative of the wider community and the deaf community.

Jemina Napier

What will we do differently next time?

The researchers involved in the 2021 census; Jemina Napier, Robert Skinner, Robert Adam, Christopher Stone, Sandra Pratt & Chijioke Obasi realise the next census, due 2026, needs to be in both BSL and English. Some questions will require rephrasing i.e. I’m Deaf (audiological/cultural) to capture accurate data and the explicit inclusion of students.


‘Pale Stale Male’: We live in a white patriarch society, where boys are encouraged to be risk takers, girls are not, traditionally, encouraged to be risk takers. Men are more likely to apply or try ‘high risk’ domains and learn on the job. Whereas women are more likely to say they are not ready and would prefer to be ‘ready’.

The census is a representative snapshot (5 year or 10 year repeat) The data revealed the average interpreter is a; white British, middle aged, female, freelance interpreter with caring responsibilities-non religious . However, they are not representative in all domains! Given our societal context and the 2021 census, will this data change our work practices? our Micro networks? And, do we have individual responsibilities to make conscious changes to our profession? I’d say yes we do! The findings from this census will be monitored by a working group and the census repeated at least every 5 years


Consumer expectations have change in the last 30 years; a persons required access v legislative required access. Along with, consideration of the opportunities available to new or inexperienced interpreters in new domains. How do people join the profession and do they remain and for how long? The structure of our profession and the costs involved require attention to maintain and develop a diverse and representative supply of competent interpreters.

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