I am excited to provide an update on a research project that I have been involved with for the last ten years.
The project has focussed on deaf jurors, and whether deaf people can serve as jury members.
I initiated the project with law academic, David Spencer, and we examined whether deaf people could comprehend the jury instructions from a judge in a courtroom through a sign language interpreter. We were interested in whether deaf people could comprehend the message indirectly through an interpreter, as compared to hearing people who listened directly in English. We found that in comparison, both groups could comprehend equally, and misunderstood the same (small) level of information, which proved that deaf people are not disadvantaged by accessing the information through an interpreter.
In addition, we have also interviewed lawyers and judges who had experience of working with deaf jurors, members of the deaf community, and sign language interpreters, to elicit their opinions as to whether deaf people could carry out jury duties. The majority of the respondents confirmed that they advocate for deaf people to serve as jurors, and in fact it is their human right, as recognised in the United States where deaf people have been serving as jurors in various states since 1979.
Along with researcher Debra Russell, I visited the city of Rochester in the US, to observe the a jury selection (empanelment), and the process of a deaf person participating in that process through an interpreter.
In addition, with a team of researchers funded by the Australian Research Council, including David Spencer, Sandra Hale and Mehera San Roque, we further investigated this topic and conducted a mock trial where we invited actors to re-enact an actual trial that had previously taken place. We observed how a deaf juror participated in the trial with two interpreters in the courtroom and then how all the jurors conferred in private their deliberations on the case before delivering their verdict. We analysed the video recordings we had made of the whole trial. The main obstacle that many countries have presented as a dilemma was the fact that only twelve jury members are permitted in the jury room (or fifteen members according to the country’s law). Bringing in interpreters would exceed that limit and that was not deemed acceptable as it may impeach a trial and compromise the confidentiality of the jury deliberations. Our research showed otherwise – that the presence of the interpreters did not have any impact on the deliberations and there were no negative effects on the trial. Members of the jury who we interviewed confirmed that it was fine having the deaf jury member with his interpreters, and that there was no negative influence. They affirmed that deaf people can participate in jury service.
We have published several articles about our findings, one of which was published in the Australian Human Rights Journal, where we stated that if deaf people are not offered the opportunity to serve as jury members, it would breach of their human rights with respect to their right to participate and contribute to society as an equal, especially in justice.
To our delight, that publication has been selected for the Australian Human Rights Journal inaugural Andrea Durbach Award for Human Rights Scholarship. The publication has been recognised as an important one which advocates for the human rights of deaf people. We are very proud to receive the award.
We have worked together with the British Deaf Association, Deaf Australia and the World Federation of the Deaf to promote the impact of this research. The award includes prize money of $1000 Australia dollars. We have decided to donate the prize money to Deaf Australia’s fundraising website Jury Rights for All, which seeks to raise money to fund the campaign to allow deaf and disabled people to participate as jury members. We hope that the donation will support their work.
Initial translation from International Sign into English by EUMASLI students Tessa Heldens (Netherlands) and Ramon Woolfe (UK)
For the last two and a half years I have been researching the participation of Deaf people in theatre. With only a few months remaining, I am currently writing up my PhD thesis, wondering what I am doing – and often, why I am doing it. Of course, working bilingually in English and British Sign Language with a mixed group of Deaf and hearing actors for a week last summer was great fun. Finding out what audiences thought about the finished work was fascinating. Turning it all into 80,000 words of highly academic but readable prose? Well, let’s just say, the 65,000 words I still need to write aren’t coming easily. I can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Fortunately, my PhD journey started well, and I am regularly reminded of the benefit of academic research by emails I receive from people who have changed their practice as a result of my work. It all started in my first year as a postgraduate, when I was invited by a theatre to conduct a small study for them, attempting to find out why the numbers of Deaf spectators were lower than expected for Sign Language Interpreted Performances (SLIPs).
SLIPs are performances of spoken language theatre that are simultaneously translated into sign language, usually by a single interpreter standing in the downstage corner of the stage at some distance from the actors. They are the typical method currently employed to encourage Deaf sign language users to attend mainstream theatres.
In my research I interviewed Deaf and hearing audience members, as well as a theatre interpreter, and staff responsible for access in the theatre. The results suggest that SLIPs do not provide Deaf spectators with an experience equivalent to that of hearing audience members. Interpreters are inadequately trained and usually given insufficient resources to prepare for a SLIP. Theatre companies are often uninterested in, if not opposed to, the presence of the interpreter on stage, and insist on her spatial separation from the main production, making it impossible for spectators to follow the show and the translation at the same time. Theatre venues, despite promoting a performance in sign language, often do not use sign language in their marketing materials or in front of house facilities. As a result they do not present a welcoming image to the very people they are trying to attract. Understandably my Deaf participants had little positive to say about the effectiveness of SLIPs in providing access.
The aim of a preparatory study such as this within the PhD process is to give an opportunity for postgraduate researchers to develop and refine their research skills; and for academic staff to ascertain whether their PhD student is ready to progress to the full-scale study on which their thesis will be built. My work on SLIPs, however, has gone far beyond this.
My research was the first to ask Deaf people their views on SLIPs, and there has been significant interest in my results from the academic community. I have spoken at several conferences in the UK and Europe on the challenges of delivering SLIPs. Most recently I presented my thoughts on the need to establish a separate professional speciality of performance interpreting to support the development of quality provision of SLIPs, at the Third International Conference on Interpreting Quality in Granada (http://qinv.ugr.es/iciq3-en.htm). I have also written articles based on my research. A paper on interpreting and theatre translation was published in 2017 in the online journal TranscUlturAl (https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/tc/index.php/TC/article/view/29265). A second paper, ‘The Sign Language Interpreted Performance: A Failure of Access Provision for Deaf Spectators ‘ will be published in March in the journal Theatre Topics (volume 28 (1), pp. 63-74).
Whilst spreading awareness of my work within the academic community is a desirable part of the PhD journey, I am also pleased that my research is having impact in the real world. I have been invited to speak at events aimed at cultural managers, theatre practitioners and interpreters throughout the UK: at the South Bank Centre in London with Deafinitely Theatre; in Ipswich with the Pacitti Company; at Manchester Art Gallery for the Greater Manchester Cultural Group for Deaf People; and as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Each of these events is part of the work in progress towards adequate access to cultural events for Deaf people, as is my ongoing contribution to a working group in Edinburgh that aims to develop opportunities for Deaf-led arts and cultural activities.
More tangible results have followed from discussions with individual practitioners. Zane Hema, an interpreter trainer based in Australia, is using my ideas about performance interpreting in Continuous Professional Development sessions that he leads. ZooCo (https://wearezooco.co.uk/), a small touring company that works to make theatre accessible to diverse audiences, is using my research to inform their thinking about how to engage Deaf audiences. In Gloucester, the Strike a Light Festival took on a number of the recommendations that I made, including having staff Front of House who could greet Deaf patrons in sign language; and keeping seats for Deaf spectators at SLIPs that give the best possible view of interpreter and stage. Previously they had not attracted any Deaf people at all; having made these changes, they estimate that approximately 5% of their audience during their 2017 festival was Deaf. In the March 2018 festival they will also use the Difference Engine, a piece of technology that streams captions onto an individual’s smart phone or tablet, for their production of Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan (https://www.strikealightfestival.org.uk/events/joan/).
As I write this, I am in the middle of slowly redrafting the first half of my literature review, and thematically coding the seemingly endless hours of video data that I generated in my main research project last year. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the fact that the work I did in the first year of my PhD is already having an impact, not only in universities, but also in the real world of cultural provision. My research is contributing to an improvement in the lives of Deaf people, at least in the arts. And that, I remember, is why I am doing it.
Audrey has just finished interviewing nearly 40 deaf sign language users on their experiences of employment and Jemina is interviewing sign language interpreters on their experiences of working with deaf people in their workplace. We will start analysing the data in the new year.
We will also be looking into interviewing employers in early 2018 for their perspective on deaf people in employment. We are delighted to be working with a new project partner – Vercida. The company was previously known as ‘Diversity Jobs’ and they have a good network of contacts with numerous companies and employers across the UK. Vercida is keen to work with us to recruit employers for the DESIGNS project.
The next DESIGNS community event will be in Bruges, Belgium, in January 2018 and hosted by one of our project partners the European Union of the Deaf, where we will introduce the project to the local deaf community and local sign language interpreters.
We would like to thank all the deaf sign language users and sign language interpreters for participating in the project so far and sharing their employment experiences.
Here is the transcript of the BSL video:
Audrey: We’re here to talk to you about the latest on the Designs Project.
Jemina: I thought it would be nice to provide you with an update so you know what we’ve been up to. So, Audrey what have you been doing since you started working on the project in October, in the last two, almost three, months?
Audrey: Has it been two months? The time has gone really quickly. I’ve been interviewing deaf people who we’ve put in different groups according to their employment status, i.e. those already in employment, those who are looking for work and aren’t currently in employment, and people who are self-employed and/or run their own businesses. So it’s going really well; numbers wise, in total I have met with almost 40 people, which is good.
Jemina: Yes, that’s a lot…
Audrey: What about you, Jemina?
Jemina: For my part, I have been focusing on interpreters, obviously I’m an interpreter so I have been interviewing interpreters about their experiences working with deaf people in employment settings. This could interpreting at job interviews or actually in the workplace; I’m looking at any barriers they may have come across; how things have gone – both good and bad experiences. Audrey and I have been talking about this and it’ll be really interesting, as we will work through the data, to see the differences and similarities from two different perspectives – how interpreters perceive things and, in your case, Audrey, deaf people’s views. It’s going to be really fascinating to see how they compare.
Audrey: Yes, it’ll be interesting. The next step will be to approach employers – we’ll be asking them what it is like for them working with deaf people, or if they don’t have any deaf employees, what they think about having deaf people working for them; we’re looking to start doing that in the new year.
Jemina: Yes. We’re also fortunate enough to have a new project partner, a company called ‘Vercida’. Vercida were previously known as ‘Diversity Jobs’; they’ve built up a really good network of contacts with numerous companies and employers across the UK. Vercida advises employers on how best to go about recruiting people with a range of disabilities and not just disability, also people who are gay or lesbian, so their focus is diversity in general in the workplace. They’re really keen to work with us on the Designs project and to look at ways to encourage employers to think about how they can recruit deaf people. So next year we’re going to be working closely with Vercida and they’ll be helping us make contact with employers, we’ll also maybe interview them and arranging visits to meet with employers. That will mean we’ll be able to explore things from three different perspectives – employers, deaf people and interpreters. We’re really pleased to have Vercida work with us and I know they’re really keen to partner with us – so that’s all very exciting and positive.
Audrey: I think we had thought it might be difficult for us to approach and find employers willing to participate in the project, but having Vercida helping us with that will make the process easier and we really are grateful for their support.
Audrey: Next year there will be more community events like the two events we had here this year; the first one was in Dublin, Ireland – that’s right Jemina, isn’t it?
Jemina: Yes, in Dublin at the start of 2017, then in Edinburgh in the summer…
Audrey: … and it’ll be in Bruges in Belgium in January 2018. Looking forward to going to meet people from both the local deaf community and locally based interpreters in Belgium.
Jemina: Anyway, we’ll let you know when we have anything new to share with you, probably sometime in the new year when we’ll be due a 6 months update on the project, so that’s us….
Audrey: We do both want to thank you for participating in the Designs Project and for sharing your stories – your involvement is hugely appreciated
Jemina: Yes, a big thank you all the deaf people and interpreters who have participated!
by Annelies Kusters, Jordan Fenlon and Jemina Napier
In the weekend of 25-26 November 2017, the fifth Bridging the Gap (BtG) conference was hosted at Heriot-Watt University. The aim of this conference series is to work towards bridging two gaps: first, the gap between academics (involved in Deaf Studies and sign language research) and deaf community members; and second, the gap between deaf and hearing academics within these fields. While the second gap triggered the organisation of the first BtG conference in 2014, the fifth iteration of the conference mostly focused on the gap between community members and academics. It was the first time that BtG lasted two days rather than one, and it attracted 120 participants: community members and academics hailing from all over the UK, the largest audience so far. The conference was heavily discussed on social media, particularly on Twitter (see #BTG5). The core organising committee consisted of Jemina Napier, Jordan Fenlon and Annelies Kusters, and others who have worked with us to plan the conference included Steve Emery, Dai O’Brien, Heather Mole and Emmy Kauling, and a number of student volunteers.
Annelies, Jemina and Jordan.
The conference started off with an introduction by Nicola Nunn, who organised the first BtG conference in Preston. She introduced the BtG series, emphasising that she was very happy to see that the conference was not an one-off and is now an established one in the British deaf conference landscape.
After Nicola, Jemina Napier took the stage to give the audience an impression of the kind of research and community work we are doing here at Heriot-Watt, where the BSL section has recently exponentially grown.
After opening the conference in this way, Hillary Third (Equality Unit, Scottish Government) and Frankie McLean (Deaf Action) gave a keynote presentation focusing on the implementation of the BSL (Scotland) Act. Hillary and Frankie explained that the aim of the Act is to make “Scotland the best place in the world for BSL users to live, work and visit”. The BSL National Plan for 2017-2023 contains 10 long-term goals and 70 actions in the next 3 years (covering early years and education training and work; health; culture and the arts; transport; justice and democracy) and a further set of actions will be published in 2020.
The Plan was constituted after extensive consultation: the National Advisory Group (NAG) has been successful in engaging large numbers of Scottish deaf people in the BSL Act. Not only was the NAG a great input for the Scottish Government, it also served as an instrument of empowerment. Several feeder NAGs such as a parent and youth NAG had input into the general NAG. An inspiring video was shown of 2 deaf teenagers who were involved in the youth NAG, talking about the valuable experience of being involved, since they “are the future”. The Act is a great example of working with and for a deaf community in order to create better life conditions for deaf people. This opening session was livestreamed (https://www.facebook.com/HWUBSL/).
When we were planning BtG5, we already knew during our first meeting that we didn’t want to organise a “typical” conference consisting of presentations to disseminate research findings. Indeed we thought that if we really wanted to work towards bridging a gap, we would need an interactive format, designed in order for people to be able to express a range of thoughts on the “gap” under discussion. So the three sessions that followed the keynote presentation were interactive.
The first interactive session was based on the TV programme Dragon’s Den, where entrepreneurs could pitch an idea for a panel of venture capitalists who would decide if they would fund the particular project or not. Jordan Fenlon facilitated this session at BTG5, asking: “what would you do if you had £2 million for a research project?”
The aim of this panel was for academics to learn about what kind of research deaf people find important and for the audience to get insight in the kind of thinking that’s involved in crafting a research proposal. Panelists for example pointed out the need to use buzzwords such as Thomas Lichy’s use of the word “hate crime”. They also pointed out that sometimes similar or related research has already happened (the dementia proposal); or that an idea (the deprivation project) had been previously pitched but not in a successful way. They said that a project such as the BSL corpus project would preserve old signs and regional variations, but a funder would require it to contribute to new academic theory, which is often a big challenge in applied projects. The idea that won the audience vote was Audrey Cameron’s: she suggested to work with Science Centres to give science teaching tessions to deaf children in BSL, and study how we think about science in sign language: a wonderful combination of doing exciting research in combination with direct benefits for deaf children.
A few academics and community activists/representatives came forward to pitch an idea that they had prepared in advance – the range of ideas covered:
BSL deprivation of deaf children (Tom Lichy)
A Scottish BSL corpus project (Gary Quinn)
The Deaflympics 55 dB cut-off (Philip Gerrard)
Sign language use in deaf people with dementia (Avril Hepner)
Mouthing in BSL (Adam Schembri)
The impact of isolation on mental health (Herbert Klein)
And science learning in BSL (Audrey Cameron)
The panel consisted of academics and community representatives: Bencie Woll, Terry Riley, Graham Turner, Gordon Hay and Emma Ferguson-Coleman.
The second interactive session was called “Heriot Watt goes to Hollywood”, facilitated by Annelies Kusters and Gary Quinn, in which 6 short films were showed that were created by Heriot-Watt BSL section staff, PhD students, postdocs, BSL students and community members. The issues included: deaf people not learning about research findings after a project is concluded; having to sign epic consent forms in English; working with interpreters during research projects; the fact that participants often don’t want to admit when they need more clarificaton from academics; deaf people not knowing about Deaf Studies concepts but hearing interpreter students do, which can intimidate deaf people; deaf academics “leaving the community behind” to give presentations at international conferences and publish books. With the films, we tried to tackle issues in a humorous albeit serious way.
The Hollywood session led to lively discussions, and during the next session on the next day, a manifesto workshop was facilitated by Dai O’Brien, Jordan Fenlon and Annelies Kusters, in order to address the same issues with the aim of taking action in the shape of a manifesto. Everyone got involved, the discussions were recorded, and Dai, Jordan and Annelies will take this forward. They will summarise the videos and use the summary to create a first rough draft of the manifesto which will then be presented and further discussed during the next BtG conference.
Some issues that were discussed during the Hollywood and manifesto sessions included: how are research findings made accessible and attractive for community members? In the case of participants who directly contributed to a research project, it is important to ask how they want access to the findings, eg. some might want a summary in BSL and others might want the full article in English. In case of the broader community there are a number of options. Who wants to watch a two hour signed report on academic topics? Other options include short signed summaries, documentary films, interactive websites and texts in plain English. It is important to make research meaningful and interesting, and that also often means that reports should be kept short. When giving live presentations, it’s important to consider where the event is hosted: a relaxing/safe space such as a trusted deaf club with a pint in the hand, or pizza in a chilled out place, fosters a very different kind of atmosphere than an university auditorium. An issue that surfaced multiple times during the conference is that researchers are increasingly proactive in trying to make their research accessible in BSL but members of the deaf community might not know the BSL report exists (such as the earlier mentioned dementia project). So, how can people learn what research is happening and where, and where can they find it? The clever use of hashtags and Facebook groups is one means but it was also suggested that a centralised website with a “research map” would be helpful.
It is not clear yet where the 2018 iteration of BtG will be organised. We hope that during the next BtG conference, we can discuss actual examples of “good practice” in research and community involvement and impact, and how these might inform the BtG Manifesto.
Click here to see this blogpost in British Sign Language.
After our initial blogpost about the new DESIGNS: Deaf people in employment project in January 2017, which gave an overview of the project and talked about the kick-off event in Dublin, we have since held a community information event at Heriot-Watt University in June 2017, where we had various presentations from different members of the Designs project team. The event was attended by approximately 35 deaf BSL users, interpreters, and various advisory group representatives. The event was livestreamed through the Designs Facebook page, and the video is still available to watch.
We are now very excited to able to welcome Dr Audrey Cameron to the DESIGNS team. Audrey is a Deaf BSL user and has been appointed as the postdoctoral research associate for the project (two days per week). She brings a wealth of experience of research and working with the British Deaf Community. Audrey’s now into her fourth week and, having gone through the usual induction processes here at the University, she’s ready, along with the rest of the project team, to start identifying and contacting people to ask them to share their thoughts with us about the access issues for deaf sign language users around employment here in the UK.
A key part of this project involves interviewing people about the challenges facing deaf sign language users who are either employees, self-employed, managing their own business or looking for employment. We’ve prepared letters of introduction, explaining a little about the project and why we’d like to meet with people and these are now ready to go out. A series of questions have been devised that are designed to help steer our conversations with participants and we’ve prepared the necessary consent forms. In the meantime, a couple of interviews have already been undertaken.
We’re also on the look out for volunteers to participate in focus groups to help us explore and develop resources that will help break down the barriers facing deaf sign language users that have been identified by the people we’ve been interviewing.
To complete the picture, we will be meeting with BSL/English Interpreters to find out from them what they see as the access issues for the deaf sign language users they work with in employment related settings.
One other thing we will be doing is collecting case studies of positive examples of where deaf people are successful in their workplace and how they work with interpreters. Here’s a good example from a recent article in the Deaf community online blog, the Limping Chicken, about Toby Burton, who is the Chief Financial Officer of Global Circulation at The Economist.
If you are interested in participating in our project or have any questions please let us know. Or if you think you have a positive case study to share with us, do get in touch.
<Click here to see the blog post in International Sign>
Recently I went to Australia as I had been invited as a keynote speaker at the International Federation of Translators & Interpreters (FIT)world congress in Brisbane. This was a historic moment at the FIT congress, as it was the first time they had experienced a keynote presentation on the topic of sign language interpreting. The fact that I chose to deliver the keynote address in Auslan (Australian Sign Language) also made a greater impact on the audience as I discussed the importance of recognizing signed languages as real languages on a par with spoken languages. Through my presentation I dispelled various myths about signed languages and confirmed for many reasons why signed languages should be considered as equal to spoken languages.
The congress was attended by over 800 delegates from all over the world representing a vast array of spoken languages, and the delegation was made up of translator and interpreter practitioners, educators and researchers. There were also approximately 20-30 (deaf & hearing) Auslan/English interpreter members of the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association (ASLIA) present at the conference.
At the end of the congress, each of the keynote speakers was asked to summarise their experience of the conference and present any key highlights or themes we felt that were worthy of note. I noticed one theme that was embedded within, and pervaded all, the presentations that I saw throughout the conference. This was the theme of ‘power’. For example, in one presentation about the Australian Aboriginal Interpreting Service, the importance of family connections was discussed and how hard it can be to navigate interpreted interaction when your interpreter is a family member, and the potential disempowerment Aboriginal Australians may experience when family members also have to interpret for them. Power dynamics were explored in relation to medical interpreting, and how interpreters’ decision-making can impact on the rapport between doctors and patients. Similarly, interpreters are in a powerful position in police interpreting, when their interpreting decisions can have a significant impact on people’s lives.
As I have already mentioned, in my own keynote address I discussed various issues in relation to signed languages, and it occurred to me that the theme of power was also evident in my own presentation – in the fact that I chose to present in Auslan. I could make that choice. This is about power of language choice. Many of the (spoken and signed language) users that translators and interpreters work with do not have that choice, therefore they do not have that same level of power. As a hearing person, I am in an immensely privileged position to be able to make that language choice: to choose one day to present in Auslan, and the next day I could present in spoken English. My language choice can also be determined by who the interpreter might be that is interpreting for me from Auslan into English, and whether I feel comfortable with them ‘being my voice’ or whether I would rather speak for myself. Many of my deaf friends and colleagues don’t have that choice. They don’t have the power that I have.
This issue links with a previous research project I have been involved in – the Translating the Deaf Self project – which examined whether deaf people feel that they are ‘known’ by hearing people through translation, i.e., do they feel represented by interpreters. Many of the deaf participants in our study reported that they felt that they have little choice when it comes to working with interpreters, and face challenges and barriers to feeling like they are adequately represented. (A full copy of the research report is available if you would like more detail: email firstname.lastname@example.org).
So this experience has made me further reflect on my position: who I am; and how important it is to acknowledge one’s positionality as a researcher (see Young & Temple, 2014; Napier & Leeson, 2016; Kusters et al, 2017). I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the FIT Congress as a result of my international profile as a sign language interpreting researcher. But ultimately I was a hearing person talking about signed languages. I chose to present in sign language, and the fact that I did that did make an impact on the FIT congress audience, as it brought into evidence – ‘made real’ – many of the issues I was talking about. But we need to see more opportunities for deaf people to talk about their language and their experiences as deaf sign language users.
I thoroughly enjoyed the FIT Congress. It was a wonderful experience, and I felt very honoured to have been invited. It was an important event for FIT in having the first keynote about sign language and sign language interpreting, so I recognise and respect that. But at the same time, my attendance and presentation at that congress has made me think about my work; my language choices; my power. So I decided to write this blog to acknowledge more widely that I recognise this privilege; this power. It’s made me think about my future attendance at conferences; my language choices; who I want to have an impact on through my presentations; and whether deaf people are involved. This is something that I felt important to share through this blogpost.
In late 2016, I got the idea to organise a small (!) book launch when I realised that I could gather at least five of the authors of “Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars” together at the same time and place. At that time, I could never have imagined that it would grow into an energising conference of this size, with 160 delegates from 26 countries, and 12 of the authors. The event even didn’t have a proper website, just a Facebook page, so I was amazed that it attracted so much attention! We moved the conference twice to a larger location. For me, this is a sign that people really need/enjoy these kinds of spaces.
The presenters presented the chapters they wrote for the book “Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars“, all of whose editors and authors are both experts in the field and themselves deaf. I, Annelies Kusters am Assistant Professor in Sign Language and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Maartje de Meulder is postdoctoral fellow at the University of Namur in Belgium, and Dai O’Brien is Lecturer in BSL and Deaf Studies at York St John University.
This is the first such scholarly book to be edited and written entirely by deaf academics, most of whom have a PhD degree.
And therefore, this conference is a major leap forward for the discipline. Not just the book authors stood in the spotlight: during six panels, experts from all over the world discussed topical themes. The contributions were offered in British Sign Language, International Sign and American Sign Language and a team of six interpreters provided excellent interpreting service.
The conference addressed a range of issues relating to Deaf Studies, which includes the study of sign language, deaf people’s educational and employment pathways and the social life of deaf groups and individuals. Presentation themes ranged from a focus on the history, current state and future of the field of Deaf Studies, researcher positionalities, research methodologies, language ideologies as well as how current research practices relate to deaf research participants and communities.
The conference was funded by the European Research Council, more specifically the MobileDeaf project grant. It was a challenge to organise a large conference so soon after moving to a new job and starting a major research project (http://mobiledeaf.org.uk #MobileDeaf). I couldn’t have done it without the help of my amazing colleagues at Heriot-Watt University, the volunteers, my co-editors, the enthusiastic panel organisers, and Emmy Kauling who took a lot of the practical organisation upon her.
Times Higher Education have published an article on our conference. People came to tell me during and after the conference that they felt inspired and recharged. I think that it is so important that we invest time and energy in networking in/around the field of Deaf Studies. I also feel that Heriot-Watt University, as an increasingly important landmark in things related to sign language and Deaf Studies, was an ideal location for this conference.
The conference organising team, with Dr Annelies Kusters in the centre (in the black dress)
I’m proud to be part of the team here, and I hope we will further grow in the years to come!
Last month, the Heriot-Watt BSL-team was well represented at the 2017 Interpretation and Translation Research Symposiumat Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in the States: Prof Jemina Napier, Dr Svenja Wurm, and three PhD students, Emmy Kauling, Heather Mole and Rob Skinner were accepted to give presentations or present a poster. Since the conference was already a month ago, we decided to remind ourselves of what happened by going through the Twitter feed (#GUSymposium). We recommend you to do the same, it is definitely worth it: you will find lots of quotes and insights from the many inspiring presentations, all focusing on translation and interpreting. A few of the insights we would like to share here:
The president of Gallaudet University (the only university in the world where a sign language, American Sign Language (ASL), is the main language of instruction and communication), who happens to be deaf, stressed the importance of research to inform practice. She uses interpreters on a daily basis and mentioned that, as a deaf person, it is crucial to have an ally in your interpreter. She stated: “What’s important is not what is said in the room, but what’s *not* said in the room”. Which is a challenge for interpreters!
The first keynote was by Beppie van den Bogaerde, explaining how research is embedded in the Dutch undergraduate sign language interpreter training programme. But in order to teach students how to do research (even the day-to-day mini studies that practising interpreters might do), teachers need to be experts in doing research themselves. That way, the Deaf community will benefit from improved services, based on large scientific research and local practical research. This will not only provide ‘feed-back’ to research and training, but also ‘feed-forward’. Key in this is reflection of the interpreters!
After the key note, Svenja Wurm had the privilege of kicking off the parallel sessions with her presentation on the impact of text modalities on translation. Looking into a relatively under-researched area, translation between written and signed language, Svenja highlighted some of the challenges faced by translators to create target texts in situations where parallel texts are limited. Drawing on a case study, she demonstrated that the translator used a pragmatic, culturally sensitive approach, taking into account Hearing and Deaf literacy practices as well as the affordances provided by the different text modalities.
A hot topic during this conference was language ownership and language ideology. It was emphasised by several presenters that both Deaf people and sign language interpreters need to be aware of their own and each other’s language ideologies: what do they expect of each other? And do these ideologies match? And, as professionals, interpreters need to be aware of the impact of their own language ideologies on their service: more positive behaviour could be associated with a certain type of language use, e.g. using the majority language.
A comment which resonated with many attendees was made by one of the conference participants: if we are talking about interpreting services, is everything just the responsibility of the interpreter? What are the responsibilities of people who use interpreters? Are people trained to use interpreters? This is particularly true for deaf people, who will use interpreters in the course of their lives, in a range of settings.
Jemina Napier gave a total of three presentations throughout the conference which included deaf citizens participating in jury deliberations which she presented with Debra Russell on the first day of the conference. On the second day, Jemina and Rob Skinner presented on the research they have done with Ursula Böser, on police interviews with deaf people. They emphasised that it is important for interpreters to be trained to work with the police; interpreters might cause damage if they don’t understand the goals of the police or why the police ask certain questions. And they showed that an interpreter does not have to feel responsible for translating everything, for example a shrug by a defendant. People shrug all the time in police settings and it is up to the police officer to interpret that and, if necessary, ask for clarification. Finally, Jemina presented on her findings in the Translating the Deaf Self project one of which revealed the pervasive fascination with the interpreter in work settings, taking away the attention from the person in question – the Deaf professional.
During the afternoon there was a well-attended and popular poster session and reception, which encouraged many fascinating and fruitful discussions amongst conference vistors. Both Rob Skinner and Emmy Kauling (PhD students) presented on their PhD topics – video-meditated interpreting in police settings, and how people experience professional discourse respectively. Both of them were surrounded by intrigued delegates.
The last day’s keynote was by Robert Adam, who focused on the similarities and differences within the sign language interpreting profession, in other words: he presented on Deaf interpreters and hearing interpreters. However, he argued that it is time to talk about language combinations instead of focussing on audiological status, just as it is the case within the spoken language interpreting field.
Just as Svenja Wurm had begun the conference it was Heather Mole (PhD student) who ended the conference, presenting on power and privilege in sign language interpreters’ discourse. She made a point that interpreters are often not trained on how to talk about power dynamics, resulting in a feeling of “I’m sure that I’ve done the right thing here, but I’m not sure!”. Sign language interpreters need a vocabulary to be able to talk about power, to understand their responsibility.
It was wonderful to be part of this conference and the representation of Heriot-Watt University was significant, which was not unnoticed by many of the participants. Not only did we sandwich the conference with presentations but we also made the filling flavoursome as well!
Impact is notoriously difficult to quantify in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. How can researchers really *prove* that their work has led to a change in policy, social attitudes or people’s lives in general? And how can this change be measured and evaluated?
In the case of the LINCS BSL team, this is pretty straightforward. Their work has contributed to the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act, which received Royal Assent in October 2015, a change in legislation that is set to improve the lives of British Sign Language users. And it is precisely this role in shaping life-changing legislation, aimed at securing the future of Scotland’s signing community, that has earned Heriot-Watt the Guardian University Award 2017 for Social and Community Impact.
The Guardian reports:
“The law – the first of its kind in the UK – aims to raise awareness of British Sign Language (BSL) and improve services for those who use the language. For BSL users many public services are inaccessible, resulting in isolation and exclusion for the hearing impaired. The new bill will prompt local bodies to produce plans for improving accessibility for BSL users, although the legislation will initially only apply in Scotland.
HWU performed a pivotal role in shaping the bill by leading a forum in parliament defining BSL’s future in an inclusive Scotland. HWU research was essential to this forum, as it investigated ways to improve the rights of BSL users. The follow-up briefing for members and corporate staff of the Scottish parliament, researchers and deaf community representatives helped define the direction of the subsequent bill.
Mark Griffin MSP, who tabled the bill, commented: “[This research] has been particularly critical in providing fundamental underpinning analyses which framed the consultation process leading towards this bill.”
In 2016, HWU embarked on a new phase of BSL development after Annelies Kusters, a postdoctoral researcher specialising in social and cultural anthropology and deaf studies, was awarded a prestigious European Research Council grant of €1.5m (£1.3m) over five years.
Kusters will bring her all-deaf academic team to HWU to undertake the MobileDeaf project, which aims to explore the correlation between the status of being deaf and other statuses of ethnicity, nationality, education, religion and gender.”
This highly prestigious award, which was awarded to HWU at the Guardian University Awards official ceremony in London on March 29th, constitutes an important recognition of the role of BSL research taking place at Heriot-Watt, as well as its impact in communities across the UK and beyond.
Professor Graham Turner said, “We’re thrilled to have won this prestigious award and that our work has been recognised for its contribution to British Sign Language users in Scotland. The new legislation helps to overturn the widespread, chronic social disadvantage experienced by BSL users, and is transforming the prospects of deaf and hearing people nationwide.
The Act is also crucial to addressing the severe shortage of interpreters because, by committing the Scottish Government to promote the use and understanding of BSL, it is expected to inspire an increasing number of people into the sector’s workforce.
This will serve to increase opportunities for BSL users, making it part of the everyday linguistic landscape for everyone in the country, something deaf people have waited generations to see.”
This award is a result of decades of hard work from a dedicated team of BSL researchers, PhD students and teachers, who all play their part in building the research evidence that contributes to the social and community impact. Specifically:
On 12th and 13th January 2017, the kick-off meeting for the DESIGNs project (Deaf Employment for Sign Language Users in the EU) took place in Dublin, Ireland.
The 30-month project is modeled on the recently completed Justisigns project, which was funded through the European Commission’s former Leonardo Da Vinci Lifelong Learning programme and produced a range of resources for Deaf communities, sign language interpreters and police officers relating to deaf people’s access to justice in police settings (see here for video summarizing key outcomes).
The DESIGNS project is funded through the current European Commission’s ERASMUS+ Key Action 2 Strategic Partnerships, and brings together 7 partners from 4 EU countries who are renowned experts in the fields of Deaf Studies research, education and training, employment, sign language interpreting and Deaf community advocacy.
There is a direct link between early education, attainment of professional and/or educational qualifications, advancement into the labour market and social inclusion. Apart from financial autonomy, work and paid employment serves to develop a sense of belonging with positive mental health benefits and identification with the wider community (National Disability Authority, 2005). However, Deaf people continue to face barriers in education, employment and access to services such in healthcare, legal and social welfare settings.
In a report on poverty in the Deaf community, Conama and Grehan (2001) state that Deaf people experience higher rates of poverty, social exclusion and employment. Factors such leaving school with no examination nor qualifications, inadequate support for the use of sign language has resulted in a worrying picture and 80% of Deaf adults have literacy problems compared to 25% of the population as a whole.
Research and data on unemployment is under reported and inaccurate. “Deafness and hearing loss” is often used to report data, and sign language users who are Deaf is under-researched. The World Federation of the Deaf also reports that figures on (un)employment are inaccurate and difficult to quantify (Hauland & Allen, 2009).
The overall aim of the project is to create research-driven, evidence-based VET and CPD training resources and exchange best practices across Europe to facilitate greater participation of Deaf sign language users in employment.
This will be achieved by developing the following work package products:
Creating training packages for deaf job seekers who are reported to be un- or under-employed;
Creating training packages for employers to increase their awareness of deaf job applicants and job candidates to so that deaf job applicants have a better chance in succeeding in employment
Creating training packages for sign language interpreters as part of their continuous professional development to understand the nature of interpreting in employment settings
The kick off meeting in Dublin involved the research consortium getting together to discuss and plan project milestones and tasks. In addition, a ‘townhall’ meeting was held in cooperation with the Irish Deaf Society at Deaf Village Ireland, to launch the project to local Deaf community members by giving an overview of various issues related to deaf people and employment and a description of the project. The event was live streamed through the Irish Deaf Society’s Facebook page, and the video can still be seen with presentations interpreted between English and International Sign.
The research input from Heriot-Watt University is being led by Professor Jemina Napier and a deaf research assistant will join the team at a later date. A newly arrived deaf PhD student – Mette Sommer – will be conducting research on the lived experiences of deaf people at work – so her research will also complement the DESIGNS project.