LINCS does music

New project on BSL Syntax !

Our newest BSL team member Dr Jordan Fenlon has been successful in securing an AHRC grant as a Co-Investigator on a project on BSL syntax.
The project aims to document and describe word order and non-manual features in different types of British Sign Language sentences. The project team includes Principal Investigator Kearsy Cormier (University College London) and Co-Investigators Adam Schembri (University of Birmingham) and our own Jordan Fenlon.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, the project will run for 3 years from December 2016.
Watch this space for updates on this and other projects in LINCS !

Heriot-Watt University BSL interpreting placements 2016-2017

By Jemina Napier

 <Click here to see this blog post in BSL>

Our first cohort of students from the BSL/English interpreting 4-year undergraduate programme graduated in June 2016. Most of the graduates have registered with either the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI) or the National Registers of Communication Professionals with working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) as trainee or qualified interpreters, and are already working as interpreters or communication support workers in various settings. Their readiness to work was thanks to the support they received from Deaf community members and professional BSL/English interpreters, who gave them the opportunity to go into real life interpreting assignments and learn outside the classroom. This basically means that students go on interpreting work placement in their 4th year, and shadow working interpreters; they observe interpreting in the real world and are also encouraged to try interpreting in safe environments by their interpreting mentors.

Interpreting work placement in 2016-2017

Based on feedback from mentors and students from last year, we have changed the structure of the interpreting work placement. Instead of doing 70 hours over two 1-week blocks in one semester, we have embedded the placement across the whole academic year. So now students are required to complete 100 hours of shadowing: 25 hours in Semester 1 (October-December) and 75 hours in Semester 2 (January-May). This arrangement gives the students and mentors more flexibility to identify suitable interpreting assignments across a range of different areas.

The aim of the interpreting work placement is to:

  1. To give students the opportunity to access authentic ‘real-world’ interpreting situations
  2. To provide students with the opportunity to observe the professional practice of qualified interpreters at work
  3. To facilitate the opportunity for students to try interpreting in ‘real-world’ interpreting situations, in a safe and supported environment, where appropriate and with the agreement of all parties
  4. To enable students to discuss, critique and reflect on their observations of other interpreters and their own professional practice

Students have to keep a logbook of their observations, and write reflections about what they have learned. This experience equips the students with the skills needed to be reflective practitioners when they go on to work as interpreters.

Once more we would like to publicly acknowledge the interpreters that are giving their time, energy and commitment to supporting these students. Specifically, we thank the list of interpreters below who have agreed to take on students this year:

  1. Paul Belmonte (Edinburgh)
  2. Bruce Cameron (Glasgow)
  3. Andy Carmichael (Edinburgh)
  4. Lesley Crerar (Aberdeen)
  5. Andrew Dewey (Ayr)
  6. Shaurna Dickson (Edinburgh)
  7. Linda Duncan (Fife)
  8. Helen Dunipace (Glasgow)
  9. Marion Fletcher (Edinburgh)
  10. Eddie Foley (Glasgow)
  11. Donna Jewell (Falkirk)
  12. Sheena MacDonald (Edinburgh)
  13. Brenda Mackay (Fife)
  14. Rachel Mapson (Edinburgh)
  15. Paula Marshall (Denny)
  16. Robert McCourt (Glasgow)
  17. Mary McDevitt (Falkirk)
  18. David Milligan (Glasgow)
  19. Nicolle Murdoch (Edinburgh)
  20. David Summersgill (Dunbar)
  21. Linda Thomson (Glasgow)
  22. Yvonne Waddell (Hamilton)

Again we would like to thank the support of SASLI and NRCPD who have endorsed that interpreters can received Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points for acting as mentors.

The students on placement in 2016-2017 are:

  1. Jenna Adams
  2. Sarah Forrester
  3. Amy Hunter
  4. Tanja Jacobs
  5. Christina Kunz
  6. Tommy Malone
  7. Marnie Radmer
  8. Kristina Tandl
  9. Isla Van der Heiden
  10. Sabine Zielinska

We would like to thank Deaf BSL users in Scotland for their continued support of our students, and hope that you will encourage them in their efforts to develop their skills to become professional interpreters.

Foundation Students do Real Research

by Olwyn Alexander  

Teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is about more than developing students’ English language and study skills; it also involves Academic Purposes, i.e. research and scholarship. I’ve been interested for some time in ways to develop the research capability of students with an intermediate level of English proficiency (CEFR B1, IELTS 4.5). I got the opportunity to explore this further with a revision of the Heriot-Watt Foundation English programme, in which the research component is foregrounded. Students now develop their language proficiency within the context of research in their discipline. This required a fundamental rethink about how to present the research process for intermediate level language learners, going back to first principles for research.

I started by asking the Foundation students what they were curious about in their discipline and we noted that children are natural researchers because they are curious about the world. From typical questions children ask, we derived some fundamental questions about research in the disciplines:

For science and engineering

  • What exists?
  • How does it come to exist?
  • What does it do?

For social science

  • What do people think about what exists?
  • Why do people behave the way they do?

We then characterised the concept of research by looking at published definitions and decided that there were four key components:

  • A concept – an abstract idea that forms the basis for a piece of research
  • A real world context in which to study the concept
  • A problem or puzzle in the context that relates to the concept
  • A question that links the concept to the problem in the context.

The research question formulates the problem in a focused way that enables it to be researched and thus to move the discipline forward. Some examples of Foundation students’ research questions:

  • What is the minimum concentration of a chemical pollutant in an indoor environment required to model it accurately?
  • How can Shunfeng [a Chinese logistics company] develop its third party logistics operation effectively?

Foundation students can use the framework to access key ideas in complex research articles. They explore the research activity of members of their discourse community and characterize their research using the same framework. They share their findings in class discussions and complete an assessment task to profile a researcher. All the time, they are expanding their repertoire of academic vocabulary and grammar structures.

The students, all postgraduates, have found the experience to be highly motivating. Just because they have a low language proficiency does not mean they cannot grapple with complex academic concepts as long as these are presented in accessible language.

The challenge for teachers is to operate well outside their comfort zone to engage with ideas their students find motivating but they may find incomprehensible. Is it asking too much of teachers to work in this way?

RADAR project update

The RADAR national workshops took place between April and June 2016. As part of Workstream 3, six national workshops were organised in the partner countries (Italy, Finland, The Netherlands, Poland, Greece and the UK) to test the training approach and material developed.

The UK workshop “From hate speech to hate communication: How racism is produced and reflected through communicative practices” took place on 16-17 June 2016 (16 hours in total) at the Esmée Fairbairn building in Heriot-Watt. The workshop, led by Dr Katerina Strani, with Rania Qussasi, Eloisa Monteoliva and Emma Hill, was intensive but very successful. Among the 28 participants were social workers, equality and diversity experts, police officers, project workers, volunteers, students and teachers. The first day included a short presentation of the project’s aims, followed by a session on terminology – unpacking salient terms. The discussion focused on the challenges of creating a vocabulary of ‘race’-related terms, as well as the concepts of whiteness, white privilege, racialisation and colourism. After lunch, we presented the findings of our interviews in terms of experiences of racism and hate crime. This was followed by a session on laws and judgments in the UK (mainly Scotland and England) related to racism, racial discrimination, hate crime etc. The second day was more hands-on and it consisted entirely of group work. The question of representation was probed during an analysis of written texts and newspaper articles, social media posts, advertising images and videos. The end of the workshop was marked with a round-table discussion on challenges with regard to the rise of hate communication and how to use what we have learned in the workshop in the workplace and everyday life.

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The workshop received very positive feedback and this was also a great networking opportunity for people working with migration, community relations, minority ethnic groups, xenophobia, racism or intercultural communication in general.

Next, the RADAR international workshop and final conference took place on 12-14 September in Perugia. Drawing on the knowledge and expertise gained from the local pilot events, the international workshop brought together all RADAR partners and their external experts for the purposes of drafting the general RADAR recommendations and guidelines as the final deliverable of the project. The UK team was represented by Katerina Strani with Rania Qussasi as the external expert. The final conference took place in Palazzo Donini, Regione Umbria, and was very well attended by academics and community representatives. It presented the RADAR project results and the draft guidelines, which were discussed at a round table. Katerina Strani  with Maria Fountana and Stavroula Sokoli presented a paper on “Attitudes to ‘race’ in the media: Evidence from the UK and Greece”. Katerina also presented 2 posters at the conference: i) with Emma Hill on “Critical ‘race’-related vocabulary in the UK” and ii) with Emma Hill on “AntiRacism and AntiDiscrimination Laws and Judgments in RADAR partner countries”.

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The 24-month project ends in November 2016. You can have a look at the project’s outputs so far if you register on the RADAR platform.

@RADARproject    #RADARproject

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Project-Radar-Just2013fracag6271-370112223154383/?ref=hl

Contact: Katerina Strani

 

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 – how accessible was it to Deaf people?

by Michael Richardson

This blog-post is based on an article to be published in the October 2016 edition of the British Deaf News, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

 

As I write, the final day of the 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe is drawing to a close.  During a three-and-a-half week period there will have been over 50,000 performances of more than 3,000 different shows:  it is easy to accept the claim that this is the largest arts festival in the world.  But how many of these performances are accessible to Deaf people?  The Fringe is committed to improving the accessibility of Edinburgh venues and its own box office, but as it takes no role in choosing any of the shows, it is left to each visiting company whether or not to make their performances accessible to Deaf spectators.

Deaf people’s involvement in theatre, whether watching or performing, is my own particular interest.  For almost ten years I have been exploring the use of BSL on stage, in both youth theatre and musical theatre.  A show I produced for Edinburgh Music Theatre which used integrated sign language interpreting was featured on the BBC’s See Hear as one of only a handful of performances providing accessibility for Deaf spectators in the 2011 Fringe.

I am now doing a PhD at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, researching Deaf people’s participation in theatre, so the 2016 Fringe seemed an excellent opportunity to review progress towards better access for Deaf people.  The timing was particularly appropriate as I have just completed a project interviewing a small group of Deaf people on the subject of theatrical interpreting.  So, debit card at the ready, I logged on to the Fringe website and began my search for sign language interpreted performances.

The first good news I can report is that the amount of interpreted theatre has increased since 2011.  The Fringe website’s own list of performances accessible to Deaf people featured 31 different shows, of which 11 were interpreted on 2 or more occasions.  In addition, in the Free Fringe the Deaf and Hearing Ensemble worked with Forest Fringe to present a whole day of BSL interpreted shows at the venue Out of the Blue.   Certainly there are more options to choose from for Deaf spectators than in earlier years.

Interpreted shows included a wide range of performance styles. Drama, physical theatre, circus, children’s shows and comedy were all represented, as well as traditional Scottish storytelling and music, a choir performing African song and dance, and a skit of the Eurovision Song Contest.  More choice was offered by the use overall of a relatively large pool of interpreters.  Still lacking, however, was a strong presence by Deaf actors.  The Fringe website listed only one bilingual (BSL/English) theatre show, which I will describe later; and a one off spoken word event performed by my colleagues, two Deaf and two hearing from Heriot Watt University (Jemina Napier, Gary Quinn, Stacey Webb and Mark McQueen).

Incidentally, although the accessibility pages of the Fringe website are not easy to find, once you have clicked through they are increasingly good at giving the kind of extra information that Deaf theatre goers asked for in my research project.  75% of the shows described as accessible had a named interpreter advertised, and over 30% either gave the position of the interpreter or offered the option for Deaf spectators to choose appropriate seats when they arrived at the venue.

This kind of pre-show communication is certainly starting to address the first requirement of accessibility:  that target audiences need to be fully aware in advance of all relevant details of the accessible event (although in 2016 no information was presented in BSL, a situation which may change following the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015).  However, I am particularly interested in the communication that occurs during the show, and the ways that it engages Deaf spectators.  My Deaf research participants had been clear that in interpreted theatre they expect a particular style of high impact interpreting that matches the performances of the actors and is presented within the same visual frame as the performance, so I set out to see if theatre companies and interpreters were meeting these expectations.

I was not disappointed.  At Forest Fringe I watched three shows where there had been rehearsal time put aside to integrate the interpreting into the show as much as possible.  In all three the interpreters were costumed effectively to match the actors, but the choices of shows had an impact on the degree of further integration.  Nic Green’s  Cock and Bull, interpreted by Catherine King, was an avant garde political satire that was highly visual and sexually provocative.  This accessible visual style was contrasted with a complex script in which sentences were broken into individual words and even parts of words, with actors overlapping different lines with songs and voice-over.  This combination of a very physical staging with a difficult spoken text unavoidably limited the fuller integration of the interpreter.

The other two Forest Fringe shows, both interpreted by Yvonne Strain, presented fewer challenges.  Greg Wohead’s Celebration Florida allowed her to be both costumed and fully integrated into the action, moving with the two actors and giving Deaf spectators an equivalent experience to hearing audiences of the show’s exploration of nostalgia for forgotten experiences, people and places.  A different approach was taken for Action Hero’s Watch Me Fall, a show which used home-made stunts to question our relationship with ideas of tough-guys and daredevils as celebrities.  Possibly for her own safety as much as for anything else, the interpreter took a fixed position on the side of the performance area.  Rather than being integrated into the show she performed as though a member of the standing audience, reacting as we did to the stunts, but also interpreting the announcements between the stunts and the few short sections of dialogue as they occurred.

Away from Forest Fringe I saw two shows interpreted by Yvonne Waddell, a PhD candidate at Heriot Watt University, in which she had worked independently with the companies to provide as much integration as possible.  Ronan O’Donnell’s Brazil is a one man show set in an imagined Scotland destroyed by the bombs of war and living in poverty and mistrust.  Yvonne provided a highly visual BSL interpretation to match the poetic language of the original, and was fully integrated into the show.  She was costumed, and performed from on the small stage close to the speaking actor.  At significant moments the two made eye contact, effectively suggesting that they represented two different sides of the same character.

A different style of integration was used in Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons by Walrus, a play with two characters exploring their changing relationship in a world where they were only allowed to use 140 words per day.  Here Yvonne Waddell worked with Greg Colquhoun, a recent graduate of Heriot Watt University (MA British Sign Language (Translation, Interpreting and Applied Language Studies)).  The interpreters were less integrated into the action, standing on one side of the theatre-in-the-round stage, but each interpreter represented one character throughout, fully costumed, partly shadowing their actors and often using a word to sign literal translation to reflect the way that English words were used in the original.  The matching of the interpreters to the actors was particularly effective and is hopefully a sign of things to come in theatre interpreting.

I cannot finish this article without discussing further the work of the Deaf and Hearing Ensemble.  Individual interpreters are doing what they can to improve the experience of Deaf spectators, but this company bring a strategic approach that is shown in their partnership with Forest Fringe.  In addition, this year they performed their own show People of the Eye, featuring one Deaf and one hearing actor and using a mix of BSL, speech and creative captions to tell the story of a Deaf girl growing up in a hearing family.   The show puts across the combination of humour and anguish that is often a Deaf child’s experience through a mix of emotional dialogue and tightly choreographed physical and visual theatre.  The aim is to create accessible bilingual theatre that both engages and educates audiences, and the four and five star reviews it received demonstrate that this was achieved.

Unfortunately People of the Eye was (to my knowledge) the only theatre show to feature a Deaf actor at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, although there was also a bilingual BSL/English poetry event (that I was unable to attend).  For me (and others) this raises the question of why significant sums of money are put into theatrical interpreting rather than using at least some access funding to support Deaf actors and Deaf theatre:  a show like Deafinitely Theatre’s recent production of George Brant’s Grounded would be a perfect fit for the Fringe.  But for now we can be clear about one thing.  The use of BSL in performances at the Fringe is increasing, and interpreters and theatre producers are working hard to do it better, and to make interpreting more integrated.   As signed performances become more common place, hopefully an appetite will grow in theatre audiences to attend performances by Deaf actors using BSL, thus coming to appreciate Deaf language and culture and all they can offer to the creation of high quality physical and visual theatre.

 ***

New academic year starting!

 

 

With RADAR workshops, Critical Link 8, EIRSS, performing at the Fringe and the Applied Languages and Interpreting Summer School, our summer this year was busy but fun. The “holidays” have traditionally been a creative time in terms of research and impact.

Now Welcome week is here and the campus is buzzing with newly arrived students. There is a truly international mix, and that’s not just LINCS.

Teaching starts on Monday 12th September. In the meantime, we are running events to welcome all LINCS students. From coffee and muffins for 1st year students at the newly-opened Learning Commons, to drinks and nibbles in town for MSc students, we make sure that you are properly welcomed and are ready to start your academic journey with us. Our consistently high NSS results (2nd in Scotland and 6th in UK for student satisfaction!) prove how much we value the student experience.

But we never rest on our laurels.

This year, we are asking new and continuing students to participate in a competition to celebrate European Day of Languages. Students need to answer the questions “Why study languages?” and “The best thing about studying languages is…” for a chance to win Harriet, the Heriot-Watt cow that can also be used as a stress ball. There are 10 cows up for grabs!

hwu_cow

The winning statements will be put on a poster which will be displayed at the LINCS stand during the University Open Day on 23rd September, as part of the celebrations for the European Day of Languages on 26th September.

We have a range of programmes in both languages and cultural studies, as well as some exciting new elective courses to add more flexibility to your degrees and give you more options depending on your needs. More information here for undergraduate and here for postgraduate programmes.

If you’re thinking of joining us, why don’t you come along to one of our Open Days? More info on www.hw.ac.uk/opendays

@HW_LifeinLINCS

#languages

#culturalstudies

 

The Translating the Deaf Self project: Where are we now?

By Zoë McWhinney and Jemina Napier

On behalf of the whole Translating the Deaf Self project team

Click here to see a BSL version of the blog presented by Zoë.

As you may have seen in the earlier blogpost in March 2016, members of the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies Scotland at Heriot-Watt University (Jemina Napier and Robert Skinner) are working in collaboration with researchers from the Social Research with Deaf People (SORD) group at the University of Manchester (Alys Young and Rosemary Oram) on an 18-month interdisciplinary project funded through the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Translating Cultures Research Innovation Grant. Information about the project can be found here, and a summary of the project presented in BSL by Jemina Napier and Rosemary Oram as part of the EdSign lecture series can be seen here.

 Research intern

As mentioned in the March blogpost, the AHRC is keen to support the capacity building of young researchers, so Zoë McWhinney began her 20 day research internship with Heriot-Watt University at the beginning of June 2016 – spending two weeks on campus at Heriot-Watt University and then will be carrying out the rest of her internship by distance until the end of the project in October 2016. Zoë was involved in supporting the final Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting in June 2016, and is involved in various tasks for the remainder of the project (including drafting and translating this blogpost!).

Data collection

Our research focuses on what it is like for Deaf sign language users to be known largely through translation. The Deaf experience of being constantly interpreted is markedly in contrast to the general hearing population’s experience, even that of other linguistic and ethnic minorities.  This experience often leads to an asymmetry of the ‘power dynamics’ and consequently the opportunities available to Deaf person in non-signing, hearing- dominated spaces. Some Deaf people’s well being may be adversely affected by the stresses created in such a situation – an area of exploration in this research project.

During the project, we have completed the following data collection:

  • 3 parents of Deaf children participated in telephone interviews in spoken English
  • 2 x focus groups were held with qualified sign language interpreters (7 interpreters in total) in spoken English
  • 8 hearing colleagues of Deaf BSL users participated in face-to-face interviews in spoken English
  • 3 Deaf BSL users who choose to speak sometimes in their professional work contexts participated in face-to-face interviews in BSL. We have coined the term ‘Deaf Contextual Speakers’ to explain how these Deaf BSL users sometimes use speech, even though they identify as BSL users.
  • 2 x Community Participatory Groups were held in BSL with Deaf community members (7 in total). Each of the 2 sessions lasted for 2.5 to 3 hours and also had some activities to allow space for open discussions. The participants in this group were most responsive when watching and commenting on clips of scenarios with examples of Deaf and hearing people’s communication being interpreted by an interpreter.
  • 5 x simulated recall interviews were held with Deaf professionals in BSL after one of the research team had filmed them in a real situation with interpreters. Originally we had planned to test the use of Think-Aloud Protocol (TAP) as a methodology (where people comment on what they are seeing while they are doing a task), but due to the complex circumstances and the reality of the participants being BSL users accompanied by interpreters in person, we adapted the approach to a ‘simulated recall (SR) interview’. The SR interviews involved participants being shown a video of themselves interacting with hearing persons via an interpreter and asking them questions about their experience of being interpreted based on what they could see in the video.

All the focus groups and interviews were semi-structured, with the participants given example questions and/ or topic outline beforehand. Time length for focus groups took from 1.5 to 3 hours, whilst the individual interviews took from 30 minutes to 1 hour each.

The research study gained full ethical approval from the Universities of Manchester and Heriot Watt.

Presentations of results

Presently, the team is conducting an in-depth qualitative analysis using both a thematic analysis approach and a critical inquiry methodology.  The findings will be published in a range of academic journals related to social research, deaf studies and interpreting studies, as well as present at different conferences and community events. BSL access to the main findings will be made available online as well.  For example, we presented some preliminary findings in a poster session at the 8th Critical Link International Conference on Community Interpreting between 29th June to 1st July 2016 at Heriot-Watt university; and will also be presenting a more detailed overview of results at the Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK Conference in Newcastle in September 2016.

Final Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting

On 7th June we had our third and final meeting with the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) in Edinburgh, Scotland, with representatives from the British Deaf Association (Scotland), the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI) and Action on Hearing Loss (Scotland), where we presented the preliminary results from our analysis of the data. The role of the SAG has been to give the research team guidance on the research methods, data collection, recruitment of participants, interpretation of the results, and also about potential implications of the research, and we would like to thank all the people who have attended meetings throughout the project, including other representatives from Deaf Action in Edinburgh and Deaf Connections in Glasgow. One of the final recommendations from the last SAG meeting was for the project team to hold a roadshow to present the results of the project to members of the Deaf community in BSL. We will look for funding to enable us to do that.

What’s next?

The research team are now working with AC2.Com Productions and Mutt & Jeff Pictures to develop scripts for 3 short video dramas in BSL in order to illustrate some of the key findings from the research project. We plan to disseminate the videos through various platforms, including social media.

 

As well as working on the video production, Zoë will be assisting the research team to organise a dissemination event in September, where the whole team will present final results from the project and launch the videos. The event will be hosted in collaboration with our partner Action Deafness at their new venue at the Royal School for the Deaf in Derby – so look out for future announcements!

 

LINCS 2nd in Scotland and in top 10 UK for student satisfaction!

When deciding on which university to go to, it is important to see what students who are studying your chosen courses think. There are various unofficial online forums and other sources where people discuss their experience in a particular university or course, but nothing is as reliable as the annual National Student Satisfaction survey (NSS).

The NSS has been conducted every year since 2005 and asks the honest, anonymous opinion of about 500,000 students across the UK on their university, the course they studied, the lecturers, the facilities etc. There are 23 standard questions that full-time degree students across the country are asked – anonymously (we mentioned it above, but it’s important).

Our results this year?

For the category of European Languages, 92% of students were satisfied overall with their course.

We are ranked 2nd in Scotland and in the UK Top 10 for overall satisfaction!

Let’s not forget the continuing success of LINCS staff at the annual Learning and Teaching Oscars organised by the Student Union, where students vote for their favourite lecturer in 7 categories across the university’s Scottish campuses (about 500 staff!), so competition is strong! This year, Pablo La Porte, Assistant Professor in Spanish, won the Thinkers Award and Katerina Strani, Assistant Professor in French and Intercultural Studies, was nominated for the Guiding Hand Award.

And last but certainly not least, this year’s Graduating Student Prize for Best Teacher in the School of Management and Languages (this included 4 departments last year, and 5 departments as of this year) has gone to Fanny Chouc, Assistant Professor in French.

Thank you to all our students for voting for us! 

Click here for a list of Undergraduate Programmes and click here for a list Postgraduate Programmes offered in LINCS.

Fresher’s week starts on 05 September and the term starts on 12 September.

See you all then! It’s going to be a fabulous year –

 

When dealing with the police, deaf people are at a major disadvantage

by Jemina Napier

This article was originally published in The Conversation by , Professor and Chair of Intercultural Communication, Heriot-Watt University. Jemina Napier has received co-funding for JUSTISIGNS through the European Commission’s Leonardo Da Vinci Lifelong Learning programme, and from the UK arts and humanities research council.

 

When dealing with the police, deaf people are at a major disadvantage


Are you receiving me? Matt Antonio

We all have occasions when we need to deal with the police. Perhaps your car has been stolen and you have to report it; or perhaps you have witnessed a mugging and you have been called to the police station to be interviewed and provide a witness statement. Or perhaps you have been accused of shoplifting and the security guard has detained you in the back room until the police arrive.

Interacting with the police can be stressful, regardless of whether you are a witness, a victim or a culprit. Most of us have one very useful advantage, however: we can hear. Anyone who is deaf and has dealt with the police may have found communication a major problem. Too often, the forces in the UK and elsewhere in Europe struggle to provide sign language interpreters at short notice or even to understand the needs of deaf people. It hampers their access to justice and needs to be addressed urgently.

The first thing to make clear is that we are talking about quite a substantial number of people. The European Union of the Deaf estimates there are approximately a million deaf sign language users in Europe. In the UK, there are estimated to be approximately 70,000 deaf people who use British Sign Language as their first or preferred language.

This is a linguistic and cultural minority group with its own accepted norms of behaviour. And most people probably don’t realise that deaf people use different sign languages in every country around the world. They identify one another on that basis in the same way that a British person might identify a German or Spaniard through the way they talk.

Interpreter rights

When it comes to the justice system as a whole, deaf people’s right to interpreters has increasingly been recognised – even if this is typically enshrined in disability discrimination law rather than laws to protect cultural minorities. But while there are now established systems for providing interpreters in courts and tribunals, and clear guidelines on booking them for police interviews and solicitor consultations in the UK and some other countries across Europe, researchers have repeatedly found that deaf people encounter barriers.

The issues are often to do with people in the justice system not being aware of the need to book interpreters to ensure that deaf people can communicate. This can usually be resolved in time for court cases or for courses in prison, but what happens in police encounters at short notice?


Sitting comfortably? Boogaloo

There are reports of police misreading a deaf person’s attempts to communicate. On some occasions, deaf people have had to wait many hours before an interpreter can be found and they can be interviewed by police.

There are recurring cases of people giving witness statements without an interpreter (or with an unqualified person). The statement is then admitted as evidence in court, and the deaf person doesn’t understand the process they have been involved in or the consequences of signing the statement. As the police interview is the first point of contact in a legal process, it is essential that people understand their rights and the process. This can’t happen for deaf people if they don’t have a professional qualified interpreter in the interview.

JUSTISIGNS

To better understand the problem in police settings and address the barriers, I have been collaborating with a team of international specialists for the past three years. The JUSTISIGNS project includes seven universities and sign language professional bodies from the UK, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland.

We found that there is no uniform approach across Europe to training or certifying legal sign language interpreters or making such people available for deaf people in the justice system. Through a series of focus groups and interviews with police officers, deaf people and interpreters in the four countries, our findings included:

  • Police officers are unaware that sign-language users need to have an interpreter present as they cannot necessarily lipread or write notes; and are unclear on the qualifications or level of expertise required of sign language interpreters. There are no clear guidelines for how interpreters and police can work together;
  • Some police forces have policies to guide officers when it comes to interviewing deaf suspects/witnesses/victims – in the UK, some forces have begun to develop online videos for example – but police officers do not always know about best practice;

  • There are not enough interpreters available at short notice to meet recommendations that only qualified and experienced practitioners be used in the legal system;
  • Though some interpreters have received legal training, interpreters are often nervous of working in police interviews in case they get called as a witness in a later court case;
  • There is a lack of established legal terminology in British Sign Language and other sign languages.

Best practice rarely followed. Photographee.eu

On the back of this evidence, JUSTISIGNS held masterclasses and training workshops for police officers and interpreters in the partner countries; and events and meetings to inform deaf people and other relevant organisations and professionals of the project. In the UK, it helped develop best practice guidelines on legal interpreting and worked with Police Scotland on a British Sign Language translation of the Scottish law caution and an explanation of what it means.

The hope is that in years to come, deaf people will be able to deal with the police in unexpected situations without any disadvantage. That is certainly what they are entitled to expect.