What do people think when they see a signing person on stage, and hear a simultaneous interpretation?
On Thursday 6 September, I gave a keynote presentation at BAAL titled “Sign multilingual and translingual practices and ideologies”. It was the first presentation of the conference and a number of people tweeted. One of the tweets read:
I wasn’t using a pre-recorded audio-file from which I was interpreting myself. I am a deaf scholar. I presented in British Sign Language and was interpreted into spoken English by Jemina Napier. This is the typical practice for deaf academics presenting at conferences.
My deaf colleagues, the team of interpreters and I initially laughed at the misunderstanding, and the Tweeter also realised his mistake quickly, writing:
However, rather than just waving it away as the umpteenth ignorant comment about deaf people, another funny anecdote to share with my friends, this also made me think. I am in a pivotal moment in my academic career in that I’m becoming more visible. Did it even occur to the Tweeter that I was deaf, and that me signing my presentation in British Sign Language was not an attempt at being innovative but simply the best option at hand (sic) for me? In other words: why not assume immediately that this signing person on stage in a mainstream conference is most probably deaf? Do people not think that deaf people can be academics who can get invited as keynote presenters in this kind of conferences?
Example two. During one of the breaks at the same BAAL conference, another scholar from another British university approached me. He said he had seen me on the screen: the hall where the keynote happened was full and he was watching the livestream in another room. Apparently he initially thought I was speaking and signing at the same time, and was puzzled about my Australian accent. Only later, he realised that I was working with an interpreter (and if I would have an accent in English, a language I do write but not speak, it would certainly not sound Australian!).
At that conference, I was interpreted into English by Christopher Stone. A simultaneous interpretation is not a simultaneous presentation1.
Example four. I taught in a summer school in Denmark a few years ago. I was teaching in International Sign and two interpreters were interpreting into spoken English. Several students thought that the interpreters were the teachers, and that I was the interpreter. And this was on (already) day three of the five day summer school. Go figure.
In this blogpost Audrey Cameron and Jemina Napier provide an update on the work that’s been done on the DESIGNS Project (promoting access in employment for deaf people) since our last blog/vlog post in December 2017.
Interviews with interpreters working in employment settings and employers have now been completed and analysis of the data has begun. We will be presenting some of the early findings at the next DESIGNS community information event in Berlin in June. On the 14th June, from 6:30pm, we’ll be live streaming another information sharing event via Facebook with presentations from Audrey Cameron, Jemina Napier and PhD students Emmy Kauling and Mette Sommer.
We are grateful to Vercida and to members of the DESIGNS project advisory group for helping us identify employers willing to participate in the research and our thanks also go to those employers who agreed to be interviewed about their experiences of working with deaf sign language users.
We would also like to extend our gratitude to all those who have given up their time to contribute to the project.
The DESIGNS project runs until June 2019 – the next update is due after the summer.
Below is a transcript of the update in BSL.
Jemina: We’re here today to give you a bit of an update on the work the two of us have been doing on the DESIGNS Project since December – was it December?
Audrey: … before Christmas, yes…
Jemina: … so we want to tell you what we’ve been doing over the past 4…?
Audrey: … I think it’s been 5…
Jemina: … 5 months.
Audrey: Well, the time has really flown by since it all started over 6 months ago.
So let me update you on a few things. As mentioned in a previous blogpost, we’ve been interviewing people from three different groups – deaf people, interpreters and employers. Well that’s now been done and we’ve collected some amazing data – it’s good isn’t it, Jemina?
Jemina: Yes – there’s a lot of it!
Audrey: The next thing is to do the analysis and start identifying the key themes – whether they’re the same amongst all three groups, what the difficulties or positives have been; what the differences might be, so that’s what we’re working on at the moment.
Jemina: We will be giving you more information about what we’ve found as we go on and at the end of this Vlog we’ll be telling you about one way you can find out more about those findings!
We want to thank both our Advisory Group and Vercida for helping us to identify employers who were willing to be interviewed for the project – without them it would have been difficult for us to find them and ask about their experiences, so again thanks to them.
Jemina: Yes… we’ve also had an Advisory Group meeting, do you want to talk about that?
Audrey: Last January we had a meeting with, was it 6 Members of the advisory group? It felt a bit strange, we had the meeting online so they all appeared in boxes on the screen and we were signing to one another via Skype, but it worked well and we have another meeting like that in June. The Advisory Group members are from all over the UK, which why we have to use Skype, but like I say, it was good meeting.
Jemina: The Advisory Group members all have experience of working with deaf people in employment or working in an advisory capacity with disabled people in employment and we specifically invited them on to the group to help us get a UK wide perspective.
Audrey: Yes and that’s been really good.
Jemina: As part of this project we arrange regular Community Information Events to let people know what’s happening in the project and to explain what’s involved. That’s really important, especially for the Deaf Community but anyone who’s interested, is welcome to come along. So far last year we had two of these – the very first one was in Dublin; the second was here in Edinburgh at Heriot Watt University, that was June last year, and then last January we had one in Bruges in Belgium. The fourth will be in Berlin when the whole project team will come together and we’ll have another community information event which usually includes presentations about what’s going on in the project plus a number of other things. You can still see last year’s event in Edinburgh – it was live streamed and recorded, so if you want to go back you can take a look at it. We also did something in Edinburgh at Deaf Action and thank you to them for hosting that. We had staff there from HW and PhD students who gave presentations about their research topics. Our fourth year students got an opportunity to practise their interpreting skills – they’re in their final year and nearly at the end of the course, so they got in some practise – Audrey, you gave a presentation about the DESIGNS Project.
Audrey: It was good – members of the deaf community were asking questions and will be keen to know more once we’ve finished the project – so that’s exciting.
Jemina: So what’s the plan for the next few months?
Audrey: Next it’s Liverpool for the Deaf Business Academy awards event where I’ve been invited to deliver a presentation about this project and as part that there’s an award ceremony for the best businesses – I’m looking forward to that, so that’s Liverpool in June. Then in September there’s the EFSLI (European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters) conference and I’ll be presenting along with our other partners in the project from Germany and Ireland, so that’ll be good. We’re also doing an ASLI webinar where Jemina will be presenting online to interpreters – that’s in September and we’ll let you know more about that nearer the time.
Jemina: Oh, and one exciting thing to mention that we’ve got planned, is for this June on the 14th, we’ll be having a live streamed Community Information Event. It’ll be here but we’ve decided, rather than have people come to us, we’ll live stream it so that’ll give people from around the UK more of an opportunity to see it. It’s on the 14th June at 6:30pm in the evening. There’s already a Facebook Event/invitation page so you can click on that to let us know if you want to join in. We’ll be live streaming via Facebook with four presenters, the two of us will be revealing some of the findings from the DESIGNS Project from the interviews with interpreters, deaf people and employers and what they said the main themes were, so we’ll be going in to more depth about the findings. Plus we have two other people – one is a PhD student, Emmy Kauling – her PhD is linked to deaf professionals working with interpreters, which is a perfect fit for the DESIGNS Project. The other is a PhD student, Mette Sommer who is deaf and she’s doing research into deaf people who set up their own businesses, how they felt about it, what their experiences have been like and what motivated them to go it alone? And again that’s a perfect fit with the DESIGNS Project, which is why we asked her to give a presentation. So the four of us will be presenting for about 15 minutes each and then you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions via Twitter, or you can watch via FB and the send in comments/questions and we’ll both respond so I hope you’ll join us and be watching on June 14th.
Audrey: We do want your feedback on the 14th – what you think of the findings; also maybe you can add something extra from your own experience that we could explore further with you.
Jemina: This project runs up until June of next year 2019 which means as we go on there will be further updates like this one, letting you know what’s happening. Plus as part of the project there’s an expectation that we’ll produce more training resources for interpreters, deaf people and employers which means there will be more happening right through until the June when we finish.
We want to say a huge thanks to the Advisory Group and Vercida and others who helped us find people to participate in this research project and also a big thanks to everyone who agreed to be interviewed either as part of a group, or one to one – we’ve been so touched by the time they’ve taken to tell about their experiences – it’s been really valuable and much appreciated, so thank you to you all!
Audrey: I’m sure this will help us to make big changes to employment for deaf people – fingers crossed!
Using an innovative approach to re-interpret Deaf Studies and Interpreting research through art, 3 Deaf sign language using artists have been commissioned through Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Follow-on Funding to ‘translate’ the findings of the Translating the Deaf Self project that was initially funded through an AHRC Research Innovation Grant. The original project investigated deaf sign language users’ experiences of being known through translation the representation of deaf people through sign language interpreters and the potential impact on well being. This project explores the findings from that project through artistic exploration and transformation in the visual arts as a means of engaging more deaf people and communities with these ideas.
This interdisciplinary project is being led jointly by a deaf-hearing research team from the Social Research with Deaf People group in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Manchester and the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University.
The team are working collaboratively with Deaf Explorer – an artist agency supporting Deaf creatives – to support artists-in-residence in Deaf community organisations, including Deaf Action in Edinburgh, DeafPLUS in London, Manchester Deaf Centre and the Royal Association of the Deaf in Romford.
Three professional artists, and one artist intern, will spend a period of time in each organisation where they will be given the time, space and resources to delve into the issues reported in the preceding Translating the Deaf Self project with local Deaf people and to inform their artistic inspirations. Other arts based workshops will happen in further locations.
This is a community-participatory project that not only involves local deaf communities but also offers the opportunity for deaf artist capacity building through the recruitment of a new deaf artist to shadow one of the professional artists as an intern.
An exhibition of the artwork will take place in September 2018, and community responses to the art will be gathered in order to further explore the extended concept of Translated Deaf Selves.
INTRODUCING THE ARTISTS
Christopher Sacre will be based at Deaf Action. His work involves exploring the flow, boundaries and the shape of humanity and human populations, the inclusion and exclusion and how some humans move through the world differently to the rest.
Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq will be based at Deaf Plus and her installations and paintings explore how we collect our feelings and thoughts within ourselves and how we learn to contain them within our own personal space and cultural boundaries.
Louise Stern will be based at the Royal Association of the Deaf and has produced visual arts, films, and literature that work around ideas of language, communication and isolation.
Ruaridh Lever-Hogg recently graduated with a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Dundee and will be involved as an intern.. In his artwork he explores emotional responses to place, events, form or object.
Want to know more?
@UoMSORD @HW_CTISS @deafexplorer
Search the hashtag #ArtviaTDS on all social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.) The artists and research team will be using this hashtag to post about this project and its progression!
For more information about the preceding Translating the Deaf Self research project, follow the blog posts, linked below (BSL versions also available on these websites):
Not for the first time, the Eurovision Song Contest has managed to draw attention to language issues in a revealing way.
We all know the controversies over the years about countries choosing to sing in English. If you thought that wasn’t happening so much nowadays, the 2017 final featured 42 songs, of which 35 were sung entirely in English – at 83%, that’s the highest proportion ever.
You may be less aware, though, that Eurovision has also offered its own unique window on the place of sign language in society.
Back in 2005, the Latvian entry ‘The War Is Not Over’ featured a final chorus in which the performers, Valters & Kaža, left their stools and laid down their acoustic guitars to sign alongside their signing. It’s not clear why. The song received the famous douze points from Ireland, Lithuania and Moldova, and finished 5th overall.
Things nearly got more interesting in 2009 when a Deaf artist, Signmark, competed in Finland’s national Eurovision qualifications. Signmark (real name: Marko Vuoriheimo), who was born into a signing family, performed ‘Speakerbox’ with a hearing singer. But the song ended up in second place in the Finnish competition and so narrowly missed out on being chosen for the grand Eurovision final. Nevertheless, Signmark went on to great things and goes down in history as the first deaf person to sign a recording contract with an international record company (Warner Music).
This year, the UK has decided to experiment with signing. SuRie, our representative in Lisbon, has recorded a British Sign Language version of her track ‘Storm’. The BBC proudly reported that she learnt it “in just a few hours”. SuRie has, we’re told, “been wanting to learn BSL for a long time” and jumped at the chance to pursue this when a fan sent her a video of himself signing ‘Storm’. The BBC’s Newsround said: “She got in touch and asked if he would teach her how to sign the lyrics too”.
The initiative soon started to attract interest. A clip was released on Twitter, but not everyone was enthusiastic, with one person even saying “this makes me want to poke my eyes out”. The singer anxiously replied “I realise there’s tons more to BSL than I was able to portray here and that I have a helluva lot more to learn”. More discussion followed, spinning out – that’s social media, folks! – into strongly-worded antagonism and much taking of sides.
A 24-hour Twitter poll summarised three stances that were emerging. Respondents voted as follows to the proposition that SuRie’s BSL version should be seen as either:
Inspiring: a model of inclusivity and artistic creativity – 16%
Harmlessly well-intentioned but misguided – 60%
Cynical, crass, ignorant and disrespectful – 24%
So what’s going on here? And why is this a LifeinLINCS issue?
Well, as a department, LINCS teaches both spoken and signed languages. And we specialise in both translation and interpreting studies, and intercultural research. The SuRie ‘Storm’-in-a-teacup touches on every part of this.
British Sign Language (BSL) wasn’t even understood to be a language until the mid-1970s. Ten years later, it started to be taught in earnest. And within 20 years of that point, it had become one of the most popular adult education subjects in the UK. Almost all of that teaching was being led by Deaf BSL users.
Now, thanks in part to a Heriot-Watt initiative, plans are afoot to offer BSL as a full language subject in schools across Scotland. LINCS’ own Dr Ella Leith is currently on secondment to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, coordinating a project to develop BSL qualifications for high schools. Exciting times!
But this starts to show why SuRie’s BSL work has frustrated some. BSL simply can’t be learned meaningfully in two hours: “It’s a complex language, you know” noted one tweeter, “way beyond swear words and song lyrics and Trump’s sign name”. The professionalisation of BSL teaching has been pursued for over 30 years. Reversing the historic oppression of the language has been wrapped up with highlighting, as teachers, Deaf people for whom BSL is a preferred language.
Then there’s the question of the quality of the BSL translation. LINCS students work their socks off not for hours but for years (eg on our main undergraduate programme to develop the ability to produce effective BSL output from English source material. And they wouldn’t start with artistic matter like song lyrics, either!
Above all, perhaps, an opportunity has been missed to do some valuable intercultural work. A Eurovision entry that had been seriously planned with both sung and signed content, developed by artists with profound knowledge of the underlying issues of language and heritage, would have been much less likely to have been viewed as ‘cultural appropriation’ at work.
Can there be a happy ending to this story?
Eurovision reached over 180 million television viewers in 2017. Sending any kind of message to such an audience about effective engagement with sign language and with considered, high-quality translation would have to be welcome. The big prize, though, would be to show clearly that Deaf people aren’t so much “in need” of some crumbs of “access” from the hearing world’s table, but are contributors to society with extraordinary artistic, linguistic and cultural riches to share.
LINCS’ own work on the intangible heritage of the Deaf community reinforces that there are many creative artists using BSL. The Scottish Government’s National Plan for BSL envisages “promotion” of BSL as part of the shared cultural life of the nation. We’re working to get that message out through initiatives like the current two-year Royal Society of Edinburgh project to construct a Deaf Heritage network which can feed BSL inspiration into national cultural institutions.
SuRie appears to have quickly realised that there was more to all of this than meets the eye, saying: “Probs best if I leave it to the professionals, I really never intended to disappoint anyone in the community… but I realise I’m out of my depth and I do apologise”. Perhaps the very best thing she could do would be to turn this outcome on its head by coming out as a true champion for BSL in society and the arts. Now that really would send a clear signal.
Wednesday 25th April was the occasion of the first LINCS PGR Symposium. Over the course of the day, nine post-graduates presented papers to an audience of their peers, lecturers and professors from within the department. Reactions were universally positive, succinctly summarised by this tweet by @HW_LifeinLINCS:
Incredibly insightful and thought-provoking presentations.
Contributors ranged from those who had only recently started their PhD journey, to two who are busy writing up their theses with a view to submitting the finished works at the end of the summer. Research interests were grouped in four panels: translation, language and identity, sign language interpreting, and spoken language interpreting. Sites of research ranged from the Heriot-Watt University classroom to Faroese fish-processing factories, by way of theatres and mental health clinics, court-rooms and police custody suites, Google translate and the Galician community in London.
The papers delivered on the day were as follows:
Paola Ruffo: Literary Translators’ perceptions of their role and attitudes towards technology in contemporary society
Nga-Ki Mavis Ho: Academic translation from English into Chinese: Increasing awareness and handling of academic rhetoric by the introduction of the Graduation system
Elisabeth Holm: New Speakers of Faroese and the Sociolinguistics of Labour Market Access and Participation
Michael Richardson: Deaf and hearing theatre – creating an intercultural third space
Alex Dayan- Fernandez: Reinventing transnational networks: Contemporary language activism, linguistic ideologies, and cultural identity (re)constructions of the Galician diaspora in London
Emmy Kauling: “He’s a professional *something*” – Co-constructing professional identities through interpreted professional discourse.
Christopher Tester: Perceptions of the Role and Function of Deaf Interpreters Working in the Court of Law
Rob Skinner: Ap-proximately there: Video-mediated interpreting services at Police Scotland
Natalia Rodríguez Vincente: Rapport management in interpreter-mediated mental healthcare encounters: a shared responsibility?
Inevitably you can find more information about all these papers on Twitter – post-graduates can be active tweeters! Look for #HWPGRsymp18.
The value of the day lay not only in the opportunity for students to present their papers, but also in the responses those papers stimulated. Each presentation was followed by lively questioning and debate and the day was notable for the supportive and collaborative atmosphere created by all the participants. Post-graduates were inspired to think about new aspects of their work, and everybody developed greater insight into the breadth of interesting research that is being carried out across the department. Importantly, we were able to make links between individual research projects that will lead to further discussion where interests or methods overlap.
In summary, the PGR Symposium was an important and successful experience for all involved. There have already been calls for it to become a regular feature of the LINCS calendar, perhaps twice a year, to ensure all PGRs have a chance to present their work in the safe environment that the symposium offers. Personally, I hope not to be here for the next one (I’m one of those working towards submission of my thesis in a few months), but I very much look forward to seeing my own Twitter feed filled by photographs and summaries of the research undertaken by future cohorts of LINCS PGRs.
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.