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.”
Following the legislative changes, HWU instigated the 2015-16 Scottish Universities Insight Institute venture. This has enabled BSL teaching to be offered as a language subject to every primary and secondary school pupil. Learning resources are grounded in the digital corpus of BSL material – the centrepiece of a 2008-10 Economic and Social Research Council project where HWU was the Scottish partner.
In partnership with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the General Teaching Council for Scotland, HWU is currently progressing the initiative by creating the real prospect, within a generation, of BSL users being routinely present in every street and institution across the country.
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.
Watch the short clip with Gary Quinn‘s acceptance speech:
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:
- BSL section staff
Gary Quinn (Head of BSL section)
Prof Graham Turner (Director of CTISS)
Prof Jemina Napier (Head of Department, LINCS)
Stacey Webb (Assistant Professor)
Dr Jordan Fenlon (Assistant Professor)
Dr Svenja Wurm (Assistant Professor and Director of EUMASLI programme)
Dr Annelies Kusters (Assistant Professor)
- Former PhD students (completed)
Dr Robyn Dean
Dr Jules Dickinson
Dr Xiao Zhao
- Current PhD students
Mette Sommer Lindsay
Congratulations to all!!