I need new glasses…and an interpreter.


We have been shocked this week by the latest news from NABS.

Changes made to NABS are:

  • Interpreters will now be paid for a minimum of one hour, instead of 90 minutes.
  • The pay rate for interpreters are now based on the NDIS rates.
  • A number of medical and health services have been cut from NABS funding.
  • Deaf people who register and become eligible for NDIS are now required to request for medical interpreting package to be included in their plan.

This is why NABS should be kept out of NDIS.

For my international readers, NABS is short for National Auslan Interpreter Booking Service. NABS is a government funded Auslan/English interpreter booking agency for private medical appointments. Prior to NABS, Deaf people experienced difficulties in securing an Auslan/English interpreter for their private medical appointments, as the majority of private medical clinics refused to book and pay for interpreters. The public health system receives funding for interpreters — I’ll save the explanation for another day 😉

Early last year, I had an appointment at the Melbourne University Dentist Hospital for an emergency root canal, and no interpreter was booked. The situation was due to the administrator claiming they were unable to book one with 48 hours notice. As you can imagine, I was not impressed. Since it was an emergency, I was willing to go without an interpreter.

Approximately 30 minutes after arriving at the dentist, the administrator came up to me…

Admin: The dentist refuses to see you without an Auslan interpreter.

Me: I asked for an interpreter to be booked when I called, yet I was given an excuse that one couldn’t be booked with 48 hours notice. It’s actually possible. Interpreters have been booked with 24 hours notice — they’ve even been booked in emergencies. It’s definitely doable. Why are you giving me this stupid excuse? It’s not acceptable on ANY levels.

Admin: We can book another appointment with an interpreter.

Me: No. I’m not waiting anymore. My tooth needs to be looked at right now. I’ve been in enough pain for the last few days, and my body is starting to reject painkillers. I need to see the dentist now. 

Admin: Okay. I’ll go and see the dentist and see what they say.

I then proceeded to post my experience on Facebook. Luckily, a friend from Sydney who is a wonderful interpreter volunteered to call me on Skype and interpret for me.

Admin: Sorry, they still won’t see you.

Me: I have an interpreter in Sydney who is now on standby to interpret through Skype. Please don’t make me waste anymore time. 

Admin: Oh, that’s excellent. I’ll let them know. 

The dental appointment went well without any hiccups. I’m happy to report that my tooth is doing fine 😉 A huge THANK YOU to my friend who volunteered to interpret via Skype – I owe you one big time.

Now, I have optical appointments every two years, and I book an interpreter for these appointments through NABS. They even stay for the selection of new glasses, which makes my experience more enjoyable.

Also, I recently had to book an interpreter for a MRI & CT scan earlier this year through NABS. They were wonderful.

NABS is a lifesaver for Deaf people who require an Auslan interpreter for specialist medical/health appointments.

I was astounded to learn that NABS will not be cover interpreting costs for Deaf people who are over 65 years of age and/or are not eligible for NDIS requiring specialist medical/health appointments. This is due to the Government deciding to cut funding for NABS. This is an atrocious decision.

The specialist medical/health appointments that will not be covered by NABS are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Audiology
  • Bowen Therapy
  • Remedial Massage/Reiki
  • Chiropractor
  • Dental Technician (hygienist)
  • Dietician
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Iridology
  • Naturopath
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Osteopathy
  • Optometry Technician (fitting glasses)
  • Pathology (blood tests)
  • Physiotherapy
  • Podiatry
  • Speech Pathology
  • Social Worker
  • Group Sessions
  • X-Rays

While I am slightly relieved that NABS will cover interpreting costs for GP, dental and other specialist appointments. I am pissed off that I won’t be able to get an interpreter if I was to have a physiotherapy appointment. If I decided to switch from Australian Hearing to a private audiology service, I wouldn’t be able to get an interpreter through NABS either.

I don’t know whether I’ll be eligible for NDIS until it’s rolled out in my area. It won’t be rolled out in my area until 1 October 2018 and nationally until 2019. So, this means I’ll have to wait TWO years like many other Deaf people who are in the same boat.

Gary has eloquently explained what is happening with NABS, NDIS and interpreters in his latest Rebuttal article – worth a read.

As I mentioned earlier about optical appointments, I’ve had interpreters stay for the fitting and selection of new glasses. Now, NABS will cover interpreting for eye tests but not fitting/selection of new glasses, which is disappointing. I don’t want to ask one of my best friends to give up their Saturday to help me to pick new glasses. I want to be able to converse with the optometry technician whilst selecting new frames and lenses.

We’ve seen and heard stories about the horrors of medical interpreting. There is a lot of work still to be done in this field so Deaf people are able to receive appropriate treatments with the assistance of Auslan/English interpreting. Needless to say, with changes to funding and services for NABS, we are faced with more work to advocate for accessibility and equity within the health and medical sector.

Additionally, Auslan/English interpreters who are registered with NABS are facing a huge pay cut which is a huge insult to the profession. Interpreters are the LOWEST paid profession in Australia. They struggle to make their ends meet. They don’t have a regular income — this is worse during the summer months as the majority of their interpreting jobs are in education.

I have HUGE respect for interpreters — especially the ones I work with. I don’t know how they put up with me 😉

They interpret for us because they love the Deaf community; they have a love for our language. They want to ensure Deaf people are able to interact with the wider community. They become bridges between Deaf and hearing communities. They are our lifelines.

With the cuts to funding and services offered at NABS, this is a huge blow on medical interpreting and the Deaf community. The Deaf community and Auslan/English interpreters are disappointed with the lack of consultation prior to changes being implemented.

We need to tell the Government that this is not acceptable. We have the power to make noise. Make your frustrations heard. Your stories are powerful – share them too.

Most importantly, make your vote count in tomorrow’s election. Tell the government that NABS should be kept out of NDIS.

Stay healthy, my friends.

S xo


NABS will still provide interpreters for 65+. These are also the reduced services.

Also, will still provide limited interpreters for people who don’t have NDIS yet until the roll-out.

People who have NDIS need to ask for funding for medical appointments – which does not need to be booked through NABS any more.

Services still covered by NABS:

Infectious Diseases
Specialist Prosthetic / Dental Prosthetic
Medical Imaging, MRI, Ultrasound, CT
Bone Density
Myocardial Perfusion Scan
Breast Surgeon
Nephrologists / Kidney Specialist
Respiratory Specialist
Rehabilitation Specialist
Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Obesity Specialist
Sexual Health Specialist
Skin Specialist
Fertility/IVF Specialist
Oral and Maxiollo Facial Surgeon
Sleep Specialist
Specialist Radiologist
General Surgeon
Specialist Sonographer
Stress Echo Test
Pain Specialist
Hand Surgeon Plastic,
Reconstructive Surgeon
Vascular Surgeon

Thanks to Jen Blyth from Deaf Victoria for providing updated information.


  1. Mwah! Eloquently written. And you’ve covered this issue so well and expressed what many of us are trying to put in words.

    We will continue the good fight. We will continue making waves. We’re all stunned at this development but need to keep speaking out until interpreters for these services are restored.

  2. Nice one Sherrie. Interpreters are united on this issue. We are fighting hard against these bullying tactics. Many of us have had confirmed future bookings cancelled today because we have had the temerity to disagree with the new conditions being imposed on us. We will not give up. We will do whatever we can to fight for Deaf people to have the right to access the same services they could before today and to have the right to pick their interpreter of choice.

  3. How is this ‘a better system’ for either Deaf or interpreters? Perhaps the system will be better for the more prevalent disabilities, but for specialist needs such as interpreting, Deaf people will be far worse off, and further from the UN Charter of Rights…
    When I was told of the new payrates for interpreters from the 1st July onwards, a prebooked job was now paying 2/3 the original remuneration that was being offered when I accepted the job. When I was asked if I wanted to hand the job back, I refused, as I wanted to honour my commitment to my client. Then the job was cancelled, and I wondered why… I cant afford to do distance jobs at the new rate, and I may not be able to afford to remain an interpreter, a job I have enjoyed doing for 16 years now.

  4. Thanks Sherrie for your writings, especially this backward-step measure of NABS changes implemented by Canberra due to a ministerial decision to roll NABS into NDIS.

    As others have pointed, the government provides and funds the national “Translating and Interpreting Service” or TIS National for foreign language speakers. For both the Australian community and visitors from aboard – using telephones & onsite interpreters without any real barriers. Users simply provide their name, time & date of requested language interpreting service, expected duration, client or site’s phone number), just like we do with NABS in the last few years.
    Hearing users are NOT told to register their full details, nor requested to plan ahead for one year to obtain funds for their TIS usage. Once the new Australian government is formed (after the weekend’s federal election), we need to protest our voices and hands at Canberra, demanding that NABS should be de-merged from NDIS.

    If we do not get Canberra to reverse this, we the Auslan users (deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing and others) will be adversely impacted by having to explain “in advance, aka the need to include this into individualised NDIS plans”. And with various service providers saying “You need to tell me your NDIS plan number, then we can together book an Auslan interpreter or video interpreting session”.

    Let me give you an example: what if deaf people face emergencies (e.g. a burning house, bushfires, storms, floods), how can they be expected to remember their NDIS plan numbers and other important details, just to access medical interpreting at new sites – e.g. counselling services at evacuation centres or community halls fully accessible to everyone else but not deafies? They may have lost everything, including their mobile phones with stored details.

    I just have one query:- which minister at Canberra made this decision?

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