DESIGNS: Employment in Deaf signing communities

by Jemina Napier

Designs

Click here to see post in BSL.

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.

The project is promoted by the Interesource Group Ireland, and the partners are the Centre for Deaf Studies at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University (UK), the Deaf Studies Group at the Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany), the European Union of the Deaf and the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (Belgium) and AHEAD – Association for Higher Education, Access and Disability (Ireland).

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:

  1. Creating training packages for deaf job seekers who are reported to be un- or under-employed;
  2. 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
  3. 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.

The goal will be for Heriot-Watt University to cooperate with key stakeholder organisations in Scotland, including the British Deaf Association, Action on Hearing Loss, the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters and the Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK, Deaf Action’s Employability Service.

A community information event will be hosted at Heriot-Watt University sometime in the coming months, so keep an eye out for information about the event and the project.

 

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