DESIGNS project update May 2018: Access in employment for in deaf people

By Audrey Cameron & Jemina Napier

 

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!

Audrey: Yes!

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!

Signing up a storm?

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 IrelandLithuania 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).

In 2015, the focus shifted from signing performers to a signing interpreter. In Sweden, the national competition was presented with Tommy Krångh delivering Swedish Sign Language renditions alongside each song. His work was so popular that there were demands for him to appear for the grand final, too

And what’s the story in 2018?

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.

Professor Graham H. Turner

Call for abstracts: Multilingualism in Politics

by Katerina Strani

We are seeking abstracts of chapters to be included in an edited volume on Multilingualism in Politics. This edited volume aims to make a significant contribution to the area of multilingualism in politics. Starting from the premise that language influences the way we think and ultimately the way we argue (Whorf, 1956; Ervin, 1964; Koven, 1998 etc.), the book will address the nexus between multilingualism and politics in broad terms.

Multilingualism has always existed in society and politics at all levels; from the Ancient world, the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, to 19th century France, to today’s Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa and other (officially) multilingual countries. In contemporary societies, multilingualism constitutes a key element of the social construction of public spheres. The link between multiple, and sometimes competing, languages in political argumentation and the ensuing questions of access, language status, language choice, translation and interpreting in political deliberation and decision-making are of paramount importance in contemporary politics. Linguists and political researchers have pointed out the tension between the multilingual reality and a monolingualist ideology in the way contemporary democracies function (Doerr, 2012; Granič, 2012; Pym 2013, Piller, 2016 and others). The proposed book seeks to address this in the context of contemporary socio-political developments, through multiple lenses: a sociolinguistics lens; a politics and cultural studies lens; a translation and interpreting studies lens; and finally, a language policy lens.

Against this backdrop, we seek chapter proposals that fulfil one or more of the following criteria:

  • the focus on multilingualism as a key element of the social construction of contemporary public spheres
  • the interdisciplinarity between languages and politics and, more specifically, the combination of sociolinguistics, cultural studies, language policy and translation & interpreting studies.
  • a wide scope, including not only empirical explorations on EU politics, but also local contexts of migrant and diasporic public spheres.
  • the combination of theoretical and empirical insights.

Specific topics may include (but not be limited to) the following:

* Discourse studies / CDA approaches to multilingual argumentation 

* Translating / interpreting ideology in political debate

* Minority languages in politics

* Deaf publics

* Relevant case studies from Europe 

* Relevant case studies from the rest of the world 

* Relevant case studies from migrant and diasporic public spheres 

* Relevant case studies of interpreted multilingual debates

The book proposal will be submitted to Palgrave, who have already expressed interest in it. The tentative publication date will be around the end of 2018 / early 2019.

Submission information:
Please send an abstract of 500-600 words (including 4-5 references, along with authors’ names, institutional affiliations, e-mails and a few words on each contributor) to the editor, Katerina Strani :  A.Strani@hw.ac.uk  

Deadline for submission: 16 October 2017. Authors will be notified within 4-6 weeks.

Complete chapters (8,000 – 9,000 words including references) of selected abstracts should be sent around July 2018.

Please feel free to disseminate the call to your networks of colleagues who may be interested in contributing to this volume.

We look to receiving your chapter proposals!