Cumbria Deaf Association’s interpreter Karen is BBC Radio Cumbria’s Key Worker of the Year

Karen Edmondson BBC Radio Cumbria Key Worker of the Year Award

Karen Edmondson of Cumbria Deaf Association has been named Key Worker of the Year at a prestigious awards evening.

The sign language interpreter was honoured at the first BBC Radio Cumbria Make A Difference Awards held at the weekend.

Make a Difference was set up by the BBC at the start of the first lockdown in March 2020 to help those needing support.

The awards recognised people who go above and beyond in their community in Cumbria. Categories included volunteers, good neighbours, key workers, carers, community groups and environmentalists.

Karen, 44, from Kendal, was rewarded for her work during the pandemic and lockdowns which left deaf people in the county feeling more isolated and vulnerable than ever before.

She said of her award: “I was absolutely shocked and very humbled that the work I do has been recognised in this way.

“The messages of support on social media made me quite emotional because I hadn’t realised how many people’s lives have been touched by my work as an interpreter.

“On the evening when I heard my name called, I was thrilled. The award not only recognises the work I do as an interpreter but also the contribution from all the CDA team.

“With deaf awareness and deaf culture being in mainstream media, it has further helped raise the profile of the support needed for the deaf community.”

She added: “[At the start of the pandemic] deaf people were suddenly not given any information through their first language.

“I remember as a hearing person listening to the news and not really understanding it myself.

“For a profoundly deaf person receiving that in their second language, even through the subtitles or social media, they did not know what to believe.

“They really struggled because they can’t just pick up the telephone and ask somebody, and they weren’t allowed to knock on the neighbour’s door and ask them.

“Without face-to-face communication it’s really difficult for a profoundly deaf person.
“I turn up for medical or social care appointments but I’m not generally there for the everyday shopping or medicine collections. All those things suddenly became a huge task.

“They would video call me to ask me for the information and then ask me to make phone calls on their behalf.

“It became morning to night with my phone in my hand. And it didn’t really stop all the way through the pandemic.”

It’s the biggest event in Karen’s 21-year career with CDA, an independent local charity that helps deaf people and their families living in Cumbria to achieve educational, physical, social and spiritual well-being.

They provide a wide range of specialist services and their dedicated staff and volunteers provide the highest standards of professional care and support.
With no history of deafness in her family, it was simply fascination with sign language that drew Karen to study it; how from 57 shapes made by the hands an entire form of communication is created.

She is the association’s only full-time interpreter to cover the whole of Cumbria and south-west Scotland.

Helping 125 individuals out of an estimated 500 deaf people in the area means she can be at a doctor’s appointment in Annan one day and a school meeting in Barrow the next.

Karen said: “Every day holds something different but I generally know the people that I’m working with and I do have a lot of information around them because I’ve worked with them for so long.

“It’s a case of going around the county, turning up for their appointments, having their conversations, and hopefully making a difference for them.

“Some deaf users are very good at using English whereas others find it very, very tricky. They think more pictorially or visually.

“They’ve never heard words. They don’t have the thoughts in their head – “I need to pop to the shop to buy some milk”. They would be picturing the milk half gone as their reminder.”

Translation is not verbatim, she explains.

“It’s finding the meaning of the message and making sure that meaning has come across rather than each individual English word.

“There will always be things that I don’t understand – for example, medical terminology or something that a solicitor is trying to convey.

“I will have to make sure that I understand it then I can put it into the BSL.

“There will always be communication breakdowns but I have been taught, and am qualified, to solve those barriers.”