Interpreters for Mental Health Act Assessments (INForMHAA)

Project progress update no. 2 – Jemina Napier

This v/blogpost is available in BSL, English, Spanish, French and Hindi


This v/blogpost is an update from the INforMHAA project team on our progress on the project to date.

The first v/blogpost gave an overview of the project and our goals, the planned key phases of the project, and the involvement of our Advisory Group and Patient & Public Engagement (PPIE) Group.

As a reminder, mental health assessments carried out under the Mental Health Act in England and Wales (1983) are intended to determine whether a person’s voluntary or involuntary psychiatric commitment is necessary for reasons of psychic disorder. When the person evaluated speaks a language other than the one used by health system professionals, it is necessary to use the linguistic mediation services of a professional interpreter.

The overall research question for the project is: How does interpreter mediation impact on Mental Health Act Assessments and how can interpreter-mediated Mental Health Act Assessments be improved?

With the following sub-questions:

  1. To what extent and how does the involvement of a spoken/signed language interpreter in Mental Health Act (MHA) assessments constrain or enable best Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) practice?
  2. When might it be more appropriate to use language concordant services (e.g. language/cultural advocates) rather than interpreters within AMHP practice and how?
  3. What constitutes an effective training model for AMHPs and professional interpreters?

What did we know at the start of the project?

  • Evidence of disparities in disposal by ethnicity and cultural heritage did not encompass language use
  • CQC and NHS Digital do not publish data on language use of those assessed nor whether interpreter was used
  • No attention given to language mediated MHA assessments in MHA reform documentations
  • Code of practice requires ‘interview in suitable manner’ with some mention of interpreters and cultural advocates
  • England and Wales are highly linguistically diverse countries
  • There is no previous comprehensive review of evidence about interpreter mediated MHA assessments or their international equivalents
  • There is no published good practice guidance for AMHPs, interpreters or Section 12 doctors
  • The impact on service users and carers of interpreter mediated MHA assessment is unknown
  • Language of the assessment and whether an interpreter was used is not in the minimal data set for NHS digital annual reporting of MHA nor in CQC publications of standards

This second v/blogpost gives an update of what we have done so far in order to interrogate what more we need to know and how to ensure best practice in interpreter-mediated MHA assessments.

To date we have:

  • Published the protocol for a  Covidence-assisted scoping review of relevant empirical work and grey literature on interpreting in Mental Health Act assessments and identified  40 studies which will form the basis of the full review. None are of direct relevance to the questions of our study.
  • Conducted surveys with 132 AMHPs and 48 Interpreters about their experiences of working in MHA assessments.
  • Conducted follow-up interviews with 17 AMHPs and 6 interpreters (+ 4 pending) who responded to the survey and agreed to be interviewed to delve deeper into their experiences and source examples of critical points of decision-making and co-operative professional practice for AMHPs and interpreters.

What do we know now?

  • No literature has specifically addressed interpreting and mental health assessment during the ‘in the moment’ of MHA assessments nor the requirements of AMHPs and interpreters to meet those situations
  • Interpreter-mediated MHA assessments although infrequent are a constant. Of the 132 AMHPs in the survey most averaged 5 interpreter-mediated assessments a year
  • AMHP report forms are not consistent in whether they ask questions about the language of the assessments and in what form them ask the question
  • Asked about whether they recorded when they worked with an interpreter 100/115 AMHPs said ‘sometimes’ and just over 50% said they recorded the language combination of the interpreter
  • If there seemed to be a ‘problem’ this was consistently noted by AMHPs
  • Only 9/121 AMHPs could recall any training about working with interpreter as part of their qualifying course
  • Since approval only 28% had participated in any training on working with interpreters
  • Nearly 60% said their training had not adequately prepared them to work with interpreters whether as an AMHP or in any other role/setting.
  • Due to the occasional difficulties of language output by person assessed, interpreters might need to implement special adjustments to their regular interpreting practice, for example, adopting a meta-descriptive approach to their interpreting renditions ‘when language does not make sense’ instead of ‘tidying up’ language. This requires a strong sense of trust in the interpreter on the part of the AMHP.
  • Interpreters need support and supervision so that the sensitive nature of these encounters does not negatively impact in their personal wellbeing and resulting professional performance.
  • Interpreters’ wider understanding of the legislative aspect of MHA assessments, not just linguistic aspects, is a clear success factor to ensure good quality communication between the parties. Concepts like ‘section 12’ ‘nearest relative’ ‘objection’ have a strong legal component that differs from general linguistic meaning, which highlights the importance of specialist training.
  • Importance of considering ‘inter-professional dynamics’ in this context.

A few key issues highlighted by our research so far:

  • AMHPs and interpreters have probably never met before when they first enter an MHA assessment
  • AMHPs have little or usually no access to the language of the service user and assessment and this affects their ability to pick up holistically information about the mental state and level of understanding of the person being assessed
  • AMHPs usually have no idea whether the interpreter has any background experience in MHA assessments and it is hard to specify this as a requirement when booking an interpreter
  • Most interpreters have never taken part in an MHA assessment.  Some have pre-existing concerns about the oppressive nature of social workers and of the MHA which can interfere with their role in the assessment
  • Highly unlikely that interpreters and AMHPs have ever taken part in training in inter-professional working together or specifically in an MHA assessment
  • AMHPs and interpreters are dependent on each other to ensure that best practice and conformation to legal practice are carried out

What else have we done?

  • We have developed a bilingual project website in BSL and English, which gives a detailed overview of the project and all its aspects, including a team positionality statement.
  • We have held quarterly meetings with our Advisory Group, who have engaged with the research design and data collection at all stages and have been critical in shaping the survey instruments, the simulation scenarios and recruiting participants. We are very sad to report that one of our advisory group members, Martin Stevens who was a senior research fellow for the NIHR policy research unit, passed away unexpectedly. We would like to extend our condolences to his family and colleagues, and acknowledge his valuable contribution to the INforMHAA project during his involvement.
  • Our PPIE Group have begun their training, which is available through bilingual self-learning online modules  in BSL and English. So far, they have completed three out of six planned sessions: Session 1 covered the INForMHAA team, understanding group work, diversity and inclusion; and Session 2 covered What is PPIE? – understanding PPIE, being familiar with how it works in research, being aware of NIHR PPIE standards and knowing how you can get involved in PPIE. And Session 3 covered ‘What is Research?’ – why we research, qualitative, quantitative and mixed-methods approaches and data collection methods. Session 4 will cover ‘Ethics and Consent’.
  • We have completed filming of the simulated interpreter-mediated MHA assessment scenarios. We created four scenarios based on reporting from AMHPs and interpreters in the surveys and interviews of typical issues that they had come across in MHA assessments, and through consultation with the Advisory Group. The scenarios featured four different language combinations: Kurdish, Dutch, British Sign Language and Hindi. We completed filming in March 2022 with the support of the TIPP drama group from the University of Manchester.
  • We have also given several presentations and produced some initial publications.

What is next?

  • The simulation scenario videos are now being edited together for the next stage of the project. This will involve: (i) analysis of the critical points in the interactions using GoReact annotation software and (ii) simulation observations where we will ask interpreters and AMHPs to observe these simulations online using the multilingual interpreting function in Zoom webinar and the Mentimeter audience survey tool to discuss what they see as best practice, what they see are the issues and how things can be improved.
  • We are working on publications from the survey and interview data, and also plan to write an article on the innovative methodologies we have used in this project.
  • All of the data will feed into various planned outcomes, including the co-production of new training resources and professional best practice guidelines, information for AMHPs and interpreters, and a proposed new Theory of Change model for conducting interpreter-mediated MHA assessments.

JUSTISIGNS 2 project

Supporting deaf female victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence

By Jemina Napier & Luce Clark

See the link to this blogpost in British Sign Language (BSL):

In this v/blogpost Jemina Napier and Luce (Lucy) Clark from the SIGNS@HWU team in the Centre of Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland (CTISS) at Heriot-Watt University provide an overview of the work to date on the Justisigns 2 project. The wider project focuses on how to support victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence from deaf and migrant communities, with a view to understanding best practices for key professionals (i.e., police, health and social) and interpreters working together to ensure access to support. The Heriot-Watt University team are focusing on support for deaf women specifically.

The Justisigns 2 project runs from January 2020 to May 2022 but had a delayed start due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and is a follow-on from the Justisigns project, which focused on best practices for police officers and sign language interpreters working together.

Below is a translation of the overview presented in BSL.

JEMINA:          This vlog is about the Justisigns 2 project. My name is Jemina Napier and I work at Heriot Watt University. 

LUCE:               My name is Lucy Clark, I work as a research assistant with Jemina. 

JEMINA:          The purpose of this vlogpost is to explain about the Justisigns 2 project and the goals of the project.

Firstly, we will explain the background of the project, then we will provide details of our work to date and our on-going plans. 

Essentially, we are aiming to understand deaf women’s experiences of gender-based violence (GBV), which can be defined in many ways to include domestic, sexual and emotional abuse, and their needs for accessing support.

Much of the information and support for GBV victims is not available in British Sign Language (BSL) or other sign languages, so this project, funded through the European Commission, brings together a European consortium coordinated by Interesource Group. Heriot-Watt University is the UK partner and we are working with partners in Ireland (Trinity College Dublin), Spain (University of Vigo) and Belgium (European Union for the Deaf). 

We are aiming to develop training materials and resources to support professionals and interpreters working with deaf female victims and survivors of GBV. In an ideal world, any deaf woman who has been abused should be able to receive support from specialist deaf services to get the support directly in BSL (known as language concordant care).

But we know that this is often not possible, so many deaf women will have to receive support through mainstream hearing services, meaning that police officers, counsellors and support workers will have to work with BSL interpreters.

So, the goal of this project is to develop resources as well training materials for both BSL interpreters and allied hearing professionals who work to support deaf female GBV victims and survivors. The project will enable us to better understand the best way to support deaf women and their needs – most importantly – in sign language. 

So far, since starting work on this project we have set up a UK advisory group, involving representatives of key organisations that work with deaf people, with female victims of GBV, or with sign language interpreters, namely BDA Scotland (British Deaf Association), Wise Women in Glasgow, Scottish Women’s Aid, SignHealth, and ASLI (Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK). The organisations will ensure that our project results are most useful, by making us aware of the needs of the key stakeholders.

Since we set up the advisory group, we have also recently administered a survey to interpreters and hearing support professionals to find out what training needs they have to support their skills development in working with deaf women in GBV contexts. We have also run a few online information sessions: (1) a general information event for the British Deaf community, a webinar for deaf women on International Women’s Day, and (3) a joint information session for police officers with the Police Scotland Domestic Abuse Coordination Unit in collaboration with the SIPR (Scottish Institute for Policing Research). 

Also, we held an online workshop with BSL interpreters and deaf IDVAs (Independent Domestic Violence Advocates) to discuss best practices for working together, the challenges involved and any barriers in supporting deaf women. 

We have done a lot of work so far, and we are excited exciting that Luce has now joined the team as a new staff member, and just started at the end of June 2021.

LUCE:               Yes, time flies! 

JEMINA:          Why don’t you explain what you have been doing since then?  

LUCE:               So far, I have done a lot of research, primarily analysing the video of the discussion between the IDVAs and Interpreters; their knowledge and experience, it was amazing. Because I knew from my own experiences, I personally understood what they were talking about. I learned along the way, analysed what they were discussing (for key themes) and produced a translation. We will be sharing the results of that soon. 

Also, I have conducted other research examining the news in Scotland, England and Wales for local relevant updates concerning domestic and gender-based violence. For example, there is one news item that stood out for me: now in Scotland, if a couple are living together to in a rental property, and the perpetrator of abuse is arrested, the victim can stay safely in the rental property. This means that the perpetrator has to leave the property, and the landlord can approve for the victim stay at home to be safe. Information like this is important to share in BSL, which I will be doing regularly through vlogs.

Plus, I will be sharing information on how to recognise different signs to use for concepts related to abuse. It needs to be recognised as the abuses can be wide ranging. So we need to identify appropriate signs for different types of abuse, for example like ‘informed consent’ and pronouns and other terminology. Because we want to ensure that we create a safe space to talk about GBV, for people from LGBTQIA+ and other minority communities, including different ethnicities and disabilities. We can improve access to information by focusing on the key thing that is common to the various deaf communities, and that is providing information in sign language.

It is amazing this work, and I am still excited to work in this project. Looking forward to gathering more information, as the more we have, the more aware we are. So, we will share more information once we have agreed what information needs to go out. 

JEMINA:          We have been busy with this project! It will run for one more year, and hopefully we might get an extension (fingers crossed!). 

Forthcoming plans include a workshop for deaf and hearing interpreters to get together to discuss, like Lucy said earlier, how we sign different terminology and jargon. For example, we sometimes see the sign ‘victim’ signed in a way that is similar to a sign for ‘guilt’, which implies that it is the victim’s fault, which is never the case. A more appropriate sign might be to show the person has suffered, or has experienced abuse, but it is not their fault. There are several other examples for us to discuss the appropriate signs for different terms. Especially if an interpreter is accompanying a victim in a police context where they are being questioned about an incident, or to a  hospital for a medical check-up, or to a counsellor appointment, or to other support services, there can be legal or medical terms that come up that are important for the interpreter to understand. So, Luce is doing some initial research, and then we will have a workshop to discuss these terms with the aim of creating a BSL glossary to make freely available. 

We will also provide workshops for police officers and other hearing support service professionals, as well interpreters, so they can reflect on how best to work in these situations with deaf victims. If you continue to watch our vlogposts, we will regularly share information about the workshops/events coming up.

We also hope to conduct follow up interviews with deaf women about their lived experiences. If we can log their experiences, we can better understand their needs which will inform the development of training materials that reflect their needs. 

LUCE:               And just to add that we are fully aware that most deaf women may feel nervous when it comes to participating in interviews. We would like to be clear on this that all interviews will be 100% confidential. They will help us to generate the evidence to understand the journeys of deaf women having to access hearing services through interpreters. This is our focus as we would like to know how can we improve the situation, to support professionals and interpreters to employ best practices. To avoid additional stress caused by having to explain about deaf-specific issues, which can create tensions. Our goal is to make sure the support services are smooth was possible, to work together to focus on victim, so hearing professionals and interpreters can better work toegther.  As a survivor myself who has been through domestic violence, if you are comfortable, I welcome you to talk to me, and I guarantee that anything you say will remain confidential.  Our job is to make sure you are safe. We want to be clear on that.  

JEMINA:          That’s right. It is a good point. Especially because the interviews will be recorded in BSL. From the videos we will take note of the most important things, but then the videos will be deleted immediately as soon as we are finished. The videos won’t be shown to anyone else, or kept for any other reason. No names will be revealed. The aim of the interview is to learn about experiences, and to use example quotes in the training to reveal those experiences; but no one will ever know who said what. which can be used to develop better training. It is a good point and it is important to be clear on that. 

So, what’s next? Luce has vlogging plans! 

LUCE:               Yes, I will be vlogging about any events in the UK, or new information, e.g. about change of laws or the fight for law reform, or campaigns for the victims. That information I will be vlogging via Twitter and Facebook. The more information out there, the better. You can follow us, tag us, and share the information with friends and family. It will raise awareness about these situations, and we will signpost information on where people can get support by the right people/organisations. And the best thing is that it will all be in BSL; we will be translating information into in BSL. This we hope to launch soon, aiming for a vlogpost every month. So, keep an eye out for it. If you have any information that you would like to share with us, that we can do; I will share it through the vlog. 

JEMINA:          So, watch this space! 

LUCE:               Keep safe, all of you.  

Study for a PhD with us ! Apply for a scholarship !

The following projects are available:

Minority sign languages and sign language contact.
(Supervisory team: Dr Robert Adam & Dr Annelies Kusters)

For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Robert Adam

Syrian identities in the UK.
(Supervisory team: Dr Lina Fadel & Dr Katerina Strani)
For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Lina Fadel (

Deaf geographies. (Supervisory team: Dr Annelies Kusters & Dr Robert Adam)
For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Annelies Kusters (

Enhancing multilingual communication and ensuring procedural fairness through empirical research on interpreting and/or translation in police settings. (Ref.: SoSS-2021-017) (Supervisory team: Dr Eloísa Monteoliva & Prof Jemina Napier)
For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Eloísa Monteoliva (

We look forward to receiving your applications.

Sign language interpreting in international conferences & high-level meetings: Pioneering work at Heriot-Watt University

By Jemina Napier

Click here to see blogpost in International Sign

In December 2019, the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland and the Heriot-Watt University BSL team (SIGNS@HWU) had the privilege of hosting a curriculum development meeting to discuss a potential pioneering new Masters programme in Sign Language Interpreting in Conferences and High-Level Meetings, as well as the delivery of a ‘taster’ course in 2020 in order to boost the number of International Sign interpreters currently working in these contexts.

Participants included representatives from key stakeholder Deaf community and sign language interpreting organisations, including the World Federation of the Deaf, World Association of Sign Language Interpreters, European Union of the Deaf, European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters, Overseas Interpreting, the AIIC Sign Language Network and the National Technical Institute of the Deaf-Rochester Institute of Technology; as well as independent experts with experience as deaf and hearing International Sign interpreters and interpreter educators.

Participants at the development meeting, December 2019

The curriculum development project has been part-funded by the Directorate General for Interpretation (SCIC) at the European Commission, with support for staff time from the Heriot-Watt University School of Social Sciences and Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS). 

The project has been established in recognition of the increasing demand for sign language interpreters to work at international conferences and high-level meetings, and also to increase the numbers of International Sign interpreters accredited through the WASLI-WFD International Sign interpreter accreditation system.

SCIC recognised Heriot-Watt University as being the ideal university to develop a new Masters programme, as LINCS been offering courses in Conference Interpreting since 1970 and is one of only four UK university departments that have been granted membership of CIUTI, an international body which brings together universities which specialise in translating and interpreter training. LINCS is also a partner with the Magdeburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany and HUMAK University of Applied Sciences in Finland in the delivery of the European Masters in Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI). Thus, we will draw together our expertise in training both spoken and signed language interpreters to deliver this pioneering course. It is hoped that the new Masters programme will commence from September 2021

2020 intensive course

The first step in the curriculum development project is to offer an intensive ‘booster’ course in June 2020.

The intensive 5-day course on sign language interpreting in international conferences and high-level meetings (SLIC) for professionally qualified national sign language interpreters focuses on strengthening International Sign skills, enhancing awareness of relevant European and international institutions, as well as practical translingual interpreting skills, working between primarily English and International Sign but also other spoken and signed languages.

This intensive course has three goals:

(1) To prepare interpreters to apply for WASLI-WFD International Sign interpreter accreditation.

(2) To boost the number of International Sign interpreters working internationally, but particularly in Europe to meet needs at the European Commission, the European Parliament, at United Nations Geneva, and also for academic conferences and political meetings.

(3) To trial curriculum content for a potential new Masters programme in Sign Language Interpreting at Conferences to be offered through Heriot-Watt University LINCS.

  • The overall aim of the intensive course is to work towards readiness for applying for accreditation either with WFD-WASLI, or for EU or UN accreditation.
  • Completion of the intensive training course is no guarantee of accreditation or offers of work as an International Sign interpreter

Course content

The final course content and delivery will be finalised once the language combinations of the participants have been confirmed. Overall, using a case study approach, the 5-day course will include discussions and practical sessions on:

  • The International Sign/ multilingual interpreting landscape
  • EU and international organisations
  • Enhancing translingual skills
  • International Sign ‘therapy’
  • Applied interpreting skills
  • Unilateral interpreting
  • Bilateral interpreting
  • Relay interpreting
  • Critical reflective practice
  • One-to-one structured feedback on interpreting
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Professionalism and ethics

Our state-of-the-art digital interpreting and sign language labs will be available exclusively for use by students on this course, as well as access to bespoke visual software for recording and annotating sign language interpreting work.

The course will be delivered primarily by leading sign language, deaf studies and sign language interpreting researchers, educators and practitioners at Heriot-Watt, including:

  • Professor Jemina Napier: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, AIIC Associate member, Registered Qualified BSL/English interpreter, Accredited Auslan/English interpreter, expertise in research and teaching on sign language interpreting
  • Professor Graham H. Turner: Sign language policy and Interpreting Studies academic, co-founder of the EUMASLI and Heriot-Watt BSL UG programmes, expertise in research and teaching on sign language interpreting and BSL policy
  • Dr Annelies Kusters: Deaf Studies academic, expertise in research and teaching on deaf ethnographies, professional mobilities, translanguaging and International Sign
  • Dr Robert Adam: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, Registered Qualified BSL-ISL interpreter, Registered Qualified BSL-English translator, expertise in research and teaching on sign language contact and sign language interpreting. (joining Heriot-Watt staff in April 2020)
  • Dr Stacey Webb: Certified ASL/English interpreter, expertise in teaching sign language interpreting and research on sign language interpreting pedagogy
  • Andy Carmichael: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, AIIC Associate member, Registered Qualified BSL/English interpreter, Accredited Auslan/English interpreter, Chair of the board of Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK (ASLI UK), in-house interpreter at Heriot-Watt, expertise in training and mentoring sign language interpreters
  • Christopher Tester: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, AIIC Full member, Certified ASL/English interpreter, PhD student at Heriot-Watt, expertise in training sign language interpreters

In addition, further input will come from LINCS academics who are experts in teaching multilingual, spoken language conference interpreting, and external collaborators with expertise in International Sign and International Sign interpreting.

Who is this course for?

  • This intensive course is targeted at sign language interpreters from any country who have not yet achieved WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter accreditation, or are already accredited but do not feel that they have previously received sufficient training and would like more professional skills development. Priority will be given to applicants who are not yet accredited.
  • Applications are particularly encouraged from interpreters who are deaf, female or from ethnic minorities.
  • A quota of places will be offered to European-based interpreters due to the part funding of the course by the European Commission.

Course dates

Date: 8th-12th June 2020

Venue: Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Campus, Scotland

Applicants for the intensive course must meet the following essential criteria:

  • Hold a national sign language interpreting qualification (or equivalent)
  • Have a minimum of 5 years post-qualification (or equivalent) experience in national sign language interpreting
  • Have extensive experience of national sign language interpreting in conference or high-level meetings (minimum of 50 hours)
  • Evidence of IS conference interpreting experience (minimum of 20 hours)

Applications from deaf or hearing interpreters from countries that do not have established undergraduate sign language interpreting programmes, or professional infrastructure will be considered on a case-by-case basis for the equivalent knowledge and experience.

How to Apply click here to get more information and how to apply

Language exchanges made simple

LINCS is glad to announce that this academic year (2019-20), a Language Tandem app will be running after the huge success and very positive feedback received last year. This app is intended to get Heriot-Watt students (and staff, if they so wish) in touch so that they can practice their languages.

Language Tandem App – what is it?

Language Tandem App is designed and developed for and by Heriot-Watt University students under the guidance José M Conde and Liz Thoday (LINCS) and Santiago Chumbe (MACS).  

The app aims to help language learners find conversation partners. Think Tinder, but with languages!

How does it work?

It’s very easy. You just need to sign up with your Heriot-Watt University email account. The first page you encounter should look something like this:

To sign up you’ll need your HWU credentials, and once you’re in, you’ll need to create a profile. We recommend that you create a profile that represents who you are. Don’t be shy, let others know what your interests are, it could be anything from football to manga. Once you find someone that matches your profile, say hi to them, get a conversation started and in no time you could be meeting socially to practice your foreign language.

“I found the app very useful, I was able to speak with my match in the foreign language I am studying (Spanish) and they spoke to me in English to improve, giving each other feedback as we went along.”
(anonymous feedback)

The idea is for students meet regularly and practice English for, say, 30 minutes, and another language (there are many to choose from!) for another 30 minutes. This is a brilliant opportunity for people who need an extra little bit of conversation practice, and for this reason, we’ve created a platform where you’re in control, you decide who you want to meet up with, and you decide what languages you want to practice!

“Very useful as it is a great way to find people that are able to help you and want to chat in a casual setting”  (anonymous feedback)

DESIGNS Project : Wrapping up

By Audrey Cameron & Jemina Napier 

May 2019 

In this blogpost, Jemina Napier and Audrey Cameron provide an update on the work that has been done on the DESIGNS project (promoting access in employment for deaf sign language users in Europe) since our last blog/vlog in October 2018.

The project is coming to an end on 30 June and most of the work in the past 6 months has been focusing on developing training materials, running pilot workshops for employers, sign language interpreters and deaf people and disseminating the project data:

Training – workshops

2018.11.08    Employers’ workshop in partnership with Vercida in South Bank                                           University

2018.12.07    Sign language interpreters’ workshop in Antwerp, Belgium – DESIGNS team

2019.03.05    Masterclass workshop for deaf people, sign language interpreters and employers – in partnership with Deaf Action and Deaf2Work in Deaf Action, Edinburgh

2019.03.27    Employers’ workshop in Heriot-Watt University

2019.04.27    EDSU & CDY’s ‘Studying your way into employment’ seminar in Prague, Czech


2019.02.23    Deaf Spaces in the Workplace conference in York St. John’s University, York – organised by Dr Dai O’Brien and other speakers were Dr Nicola Nunn of UCLAN and Mette Sommer of Heriot-Watt University

2019.03.05    EdSign lecture in University of Edinburgh

2019.04.09    Employment of sign language users in Europe – Policy & Practice Implications at European Parliament – hosted by Helga Stevens – to present project research findings – Adam Kosa MEP  and the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (developing EU strategy for employment for disabled people). 

Up to the end of June, we are continuing to finalise the training materials and filming case studies for the DESIGNS project website.  The next update is due in June where we will introduce the finalised material.

Below is an English translation of the update that is presented in BSL.

Hello! (both)

Jemina: We’re here to give you an update on the DESIGNS Project, which is to do with deaf employment and interpreting. The last project update was November last year, so we thought it was high time we let you know what we’ve been doing over the last 6 months.

Audrey: … yes, we’ve got a lot to tell you.

Jemina: We’ve got a number of things to cover so we’ll alternate between us. So, the first thing to say is that we’ve been out there delivering a lot of training sessions – sorry I need to refer to my notes here to remind me of everything we’ve done…..  Audrey and I went down to London to run a training session for employers in partnership with an organisation called Vercida, who encourages employers of large organisations to recruit disabled people and embrace diversity; when larger organisations are looking for advice about how develop a more diverse workforce, Vercida are the people they go which also makes them a perfect fit for fits perfectly this project.  Vercida helped us find three employers but we were hoping to have more but really this session was more of a pilot.

As part of the DESIGNS Project, we interviewed employers, deaf sign language users and interpreters and we shared our research findings with those employers so that if they were looking to recruit deaf people they would have an idea of what it’s like and we could see that they found that really useful. From the evaluation at the end there were clearly things they hadn’t known about deaf people and interpreters, so they definitely found the session helpful.

We used that session to help us to develop another Master Class that we delivered here in Edinburgh in partnership with Deaf Action, which is a local deaf community organisation based in Edinburgh. We developed and ran this in conjunction with their employment service and interpreting service and some other people from here at Heriot Watt…

Audrey: … and from Deaf2Work…

Jemina: … yes Tony Barlow, who is a deaf employment consultant has a company called Deaf2Work so we all worked in conjunction with one another deliver this Master Class. What was really interesting was that we had a group of employers (some of whom had experience of working with deaf people and some who didn’t); a group of interpreters and a group of deaf people.  We started the day together and then spit into our respective groups and we tailored the content accordingly. Then we all came back together to watch a role play of an interview involving an interpreter, a deaf person and an employer and that was fascinating and generated a lot of valuable discussion.

Interpreters’ session
Employers’ session
Deaf participants’ session

… Audrey and I were also involved in delivering a training workshop with the rest of the consortium over in Antwerp for a group of about 40 sign language interpreters from all over Europe (both deaf and hearing) with some having travelled some considerable distance to get there. We presented a lot of the findings from the DESIGNS Project plus again using roleplays, we gave to them an idea what it’s like interpreting for job interviews. That was really interesting and a good experience…

Audrey: … a lot of them wanted to know how to work with deaf people at job interviews which was clearly a worry for them and I think the training was really useful in that respect.

Jemina: So altogether that’s 4 training events we’ve delivered and even more recently Audrey went to the EDSU The European Deaf Students conference in Prague…

Audrey: … yes…

Jemina … and ran a workshop on the DESIGNS Project at which she talked about deaf employment, creating a CV and the barriers deaf people face around employment. This was for students all of whom are currently studying at University level and starting to think about their career path… that was a two hour workshop…

Audrey: … two and a half hours

Jemina: … so another two and a half hours linked to the DESIGNS Project which is good. That’s those 4 different training workshops covered. Ok, now I’ll hand over to you Audrey…

Credit to EDSU

Audrey:   Jemina and I have not just been focusing on training; we’ve also been out there disseminating the data and the findings from the DESIGNS Project. Since November we’ve attended a number of events. The first was in York at St John’s University, which was organised by Dai O’Brien who’s been doing research on what employment for deaf people is like in Higher Education. I, along with Mette Sommer (who is a PhD student here at Heriot Watt) and Nicola Nunn for UCLAN also gave presentations and incorporated our experiences of working in that environment with interpreters. That was a good conference and there were a lot of people there…

Jemina:… and lots of questions and a great deal of interest in the project.

Audrey:   Jemina and I have not just been focusing on training; we’ve also been out there disseminating the data and the findings from the DESIGNS Project. Since November we’ve attended a number of events. The first was in York at St John’s University, which was organised by Dai O’Brien who’s been doing research on what employment for deaf people is like in Higher Education. I, along with Mette Sommer (who is a PhD student here at Heriot Watt) and Nicola Nunn for UCLAN also gave presentations and incorporated our experiences of working in that environment with interpreters. That was a good conference and there were a lot of people there…

Jemina:… and lots of questions and a great deal of interest in the project.

Audrey: … they were very keen to have the training pack that will help people get into work and that’s one of the aims for the project …

The second dissemination event was back in March where we’d been invited to present at one of the ‘EdSign’ series of lectures at the University of Edinburgh which are run by four universities – Queen Margaret University, Heriot Watt and Edinburgh… that’s only three isn’t it Jemina?! … sorry it’s three not four! So as I said they invite different speakers to come along and we presented for a couple of hours… or was it an hour?

Jemina: … about an hour…

Audrey: … for a hour and that went well. It was also live streamed; we’ll put the link up so you can watch our presentation if you’re interested. 


… and thirdly we were recently at the European Parliament – Helga Stevens who is deaf and an MEP hosted an event at which she invited us to share the our findings from the DESIGNS Project. We were able to present these to MEPs and the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion came along to listen and I think he soon realised the need to deliver better access to employment and that was good… that was in April.

Jemina: Really that was the last ‘official’ event of the DESIGNS Project because now we’re starting the process of bringing things to a close and finishing off.

We held the last project meeting the day before the event at the European Parliament. All the other project partners gathered together to work out what we still had left to do and to make sure we tidied up any loose ends and then the next day we were at the parliament.

Audrey: But we’re not finished just yet. The report still has to be written and we are filming case studies with employers, deaf people and interpreters for the website and what else…? And then working on the training pack which will also be put up on the website. Then, when absolutely everything is done we’re going to have another Facebook livestream where we’ll be showing you what resources we’ve got and that will be soon – when do you think that will be Jemina?

Jemina: … probably later in the year. Here at Heriot Watt, the project officially ends at the of June; after that we’ll have a few things to tidy up and unfortunately that’ll mean Audrey and I will no longer be working with one another on the project… but who knows maybe we’ll get to work again on something in the future… we’ll see… 

Audrey: But this project has been so worthwhile doing…

Jemina: There will also be more information coming out in BSL – for example, there will be a BSL version of the summary of the research report and summaries of some of the training materials Audrey mentioned so we’ll be back with more information about those another time.


Sign language researchers talk research!

By Jemina Napier

Click here to see a version of this blogpost in British Sign Language (BSL).

While I am on research sabbatical from Heriot-Watt University I am fortunate to be spending my time as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh (see here for overview of what I am working on).

As part of my fellowship I have been able to avail of IASH facilities to organize a workshop with a leading scholar in the field of Deaf Studies, Dr Annelies Kusters, to bring together a small group of researchers who work with sign language data. The 2-day workshop took place on 25-26 October 2018 and was by invitation only. Our priority was to invite deaf and hearing researchers that are fluent British Sign Language (BSL) users, and who are currently grappling with issues either to do with the analysis of qualitative sign language data, or are exploring new and innovative qualitative research methods. One of the reasons we wanted to ensure that everyone is a fluent BSL user is because we wanted to avoid holding discussions through interpreters, to allow for more in-depth and organic discussions. And this certainly worked!

The majority of the 12 attendees were my colleagues and PhD students from the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University, but we also had several attendees from other UK universities and also one Finnish university.

The first day (Thursday) was dedicated to the discussion of different approaches to data analysis, and the second day (Friday) was devoted to methodologies. Each participant was asked to give a 15-minute presentation about their topic and we built in plenty of time for discussion. The projects being conducted by the group range from experiences of deaf people seeking asylum in Finland, documentation of Indonesian Sign Language, explorations of professional and labour migration among deaf sign language users, family sign language policy, deaf tourism in Bali, video remote sign language interpreting in police settings, different perceptions of sign language interpreting, and experiences of deaf business owners, deaf professionals and deaf parents in social work contexts. As you would expect, such a range of projects calls for a range of approaches to data analysis and methodologies. Over the two days the following key issues were discussed:

  • How and whether to anonymise video data
  • Whether to directly code from sign language data or translate and code from written (representative) texts – and if so what and how to translate
  • Use of different software for coding (such as ELAN, Atlas.ti or N-Vivo)
  • Processes for deciding what and how to code
  • How to code observational fieldnotes, and saturation of observational data
  • Thematic coding as an organic or planned process
  • Using visual methods for data collection and analysis – eco-maps, photos, film-making, social media networking sites
  • Data coding fatigue
  • Benefits of documenting analytical decisions as part of the research process
  • Value of having conversations with others about coding/ annotation/ analytical processes
  • Challenges of how and what to code
  • Power dynamics in interviewing participants
  • Positionality and the observer’s paradox
  • Reflexivity in planning, reviewing data collection and data analysis
  • Ethics of recruiting and interviewing disadvantaged people, and methods for gaining consent
  • Building rapport and trust with research participants
  • How to create semi-authentic simulations of sign language (interpreted) interactions
  • Interviewing directly or through interpreters
  • Methods for taking fieldnotes

This exploratory workshop was a huge success, so we hope to make it an annual event, and open it up to other sign language researchers. Many of the issues we dissected are not unique to sign language researchers by any means, but being able to come together and have the space to have open and frank conversations about our work in sign language was a rare and much valued opportunity. We are considering a proposal for an edited volume based on the format of this workshop, so hopefully that will be a book that we can add to the IASH library one day!


This blogpost was first posted on the IASH website on 6th November 2018:


Translating and Interpreting in Modern Times: The Impact of Technology

by Lucas Pira

On Wednesday 3rd October, to celebrate International Translation Day, the Heriot-Watt Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies in Scotland (CTISS) hosted a symposium on a topic that will dominate the translation and interpreting conversation for years to come: technology. CTISS director, Jemina Napier, and Head of French Section, Fanny Chouc, organised an event that featured three interesting and insightful presentations by Rebecca Elder, Robert Skinner and Sarah Fisher, on the place of technology in the daily life of a translator or interpreter.

Rebecca Elder, a recent HWU graduate and now freelance translator, showed us how she uses technology for work purposes. She also gave us an insight into the way she works and provided some helpful tips for starting a career as a Freelance translator by tackling seven specific challenges.  To the question, “Is technology a friend or foe?” Rebecca stated she does not think technology will replace translators anytime soon but new tasks such as post editing of machine translation will have to be taken into consideration. She also underlined the importance of having a CAT tool before moving on to discuss how to technology can help establish a presence on the market and overcome a lack of experience, or what is popularly referred to as “impostor syndrome”. Rebecca’s presentation was an invaluable source of information, giving precious advice, derived from her own experiences, on how to begin a career as a freelance translator.

Robert Skinner, a current PHD student at HWU and professional BSL interpreter, discussed video-mediated interpreting for non-emergency calls to the police. BSL interpreters have long been at the forefront of technology, but even so, Robert revealed how interpreters and users still face a number of challenges with Video Relay Services and Video Remote Interpreting. BSL interpreters working remotely, for example, have to think about how they introduce themselves to the user. He gave us an example of an Italian interpreter who practically assumed the role of a Police officer. Interpreters also have to think about how they communicate with the police and deaf users at the same time, often forced to speak two languages simultaneously.

Our final speaker, Sarah Fisher, a former HWU MSc student & professional conference interpreter, talked about conference interpreters’ perceptions of the impact of technology on their work. Her research focusses on the use of technology in the booth among interpreters and on the sociocultural impact technology has on the profession.  Sarah has conducted numerous interviews with practicing interpreters, revealing an overall increase in the use of technology in this field. Nowadays, interpreters bring their laptops to facilitate their task, and they also make the most of social media, both as a way to build their own profiles and to stay connected to other interpreting professionals. According to her data, however, conference interpreters value these tools as back up rather than as something that will replace the traditional pen-and-paper toolkit.

Most interestingly, conference interpreters seem to have a keen sense of the sociocultural aspects of technology and the negative impact it has on the profession. Sarah revealed that there is a growing sense that technology has a negative impact on the visibility of interpreting professionals, who worry that they’ll be viewed as just “a voice that could be anywhere, that could be anyone.” Perhaps this is why technology is such an important area, and one that needs to be discussed further and in broader terms, because some of the perceived challenges translators and interpreters face in this new technological age can only be overcome by viewing technology as an ally rather than an enemy.

Sign language interpreting in employment settings: Dissemination and training DESIGNS project update October 2018

By Audrey Cameron & Jemina Napier

Link to version in BSL to be embedded in the website:

In this blogpost, Jemina Napier and Audrey Cameron provide an update on the work that has been done on the DESIGNS project (promoting access in employment for deaf people) since our last blog/vlog in May 2018.


The past 5 months, work has focused on analysis of the interview data and writing the project report for the European Commission and also disseminating the project data:

  1. Facebook livestream event in June 2018 with 1,800 viewers
  2. efsli conference in Croatia in September 2018 – where the theme was Interpreters working in employment”.
  3. Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI)’s webinar in September 2018


We are now working on developing training materials for employers and sign language interpreters working with deaf people.  There will be two workshops, one in November and another in December:

  1.  Employers’ workshop in partnership with Vercida
  2. Sign language interpreters’ workshop in partnership with Deaf Action

The next update is due in the New Year.

Below is an English translation of the update that was presented in BSL.

Audrey:  We just wanted to update you about some of the exciting work we have been doing on the DESIGNS project over the past 5 months.  We have both been busy attending events and letting people know about the project.  The report for the European Commission is almost completed and then, after it has formally been presented to them, it will be made available for people to look at.

Jemina:  Do you remember back in May, Audrey and I were talking about some of the things we had planned?  Well, one of those was a Facebook livestream event, which we did the following month, with Mette Sommer, and Emmy Kauling; Audrey and I talked about the research we are doing here as part of the DESIGNS project and the other two explained about the research they were doing which is about also about deaf people and employment. Amazingly, we got 1,800 views, with people either watching it live, or afterwards when it had been uploaded.  So, if you haven’t yet seen it and you’re interested, go to Heriot Watt ‘Life in LINCS’ Facebook page and you’ll see the uploaded video there… wow, when I think about it, one thousand eight hundred views, that’s a lot!

Audrey:  I do think that livestreaming is a good way of connecting with the Deaf community and keeping people informed.  Whereas in the past, we would need a room and invite people along, this way we can let everybody throughout the whole of the UK know what is going on all at the same time.  The other advantage with livestreaming are the questions that people post, which we were then able to respond live and in real time.

Jemina:  That’s right, people typed in their comments and they would then pop up – we relayed their questions to everyone in BSL and were able to respond; it is really interactive.

Audrey:  What was also good about it was that we had our PowerPoint slides displayed behind us, so that people watching could see the information we were referring to, so hopefully we will line up a few more of those in the coming months.

After the live stream event I went to Croatia for the Efsli (the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters) conference in Dubrovnik – where the theme was ‘Interpreters working in Employment’ which is obviously the focus of the DESIGNS project.  I went to represent the team here in the UK and my colleagues from both Germany and Ireland were also there, along with 300 delegates, most of whom were interpreters from all over Europe.  It was fascinating – at the very start of the conference we all took our seats and then the question was asked ‘Who here is from England?’ and they would stand up and everyone would wave. There were loads of different countries represented, I’d say about 30, not just in Europe but from around the world, from Australia, America, Canada, Mexico… it was great for us being able to present the data from this project to so many people; for some it was probably something to bear in mind if they’re looking to improve things in back in their own countries; for others it might have been a reminder that they’d had similar experiences in the past.

Jemina:  You gave a presentation at the conference…

Audrey:  … yes, along with Christian Rathmann. We had about half an hour to talk about the project.  There was one presentation by two designated interpreters from Austria working with a deaf pharmacist.  They talked about what it was like – that was good.

What else? This year was the first time they had interpreters from Russia at the conference – there was a booth at the back of the room with an interpreter plugged in with a head mic working into Russian, so that was something a bit different.  The presentation from Russia was amazing. They showed a film of all these factories in Russia which have many deaf people working in them and who then all live nearby.  There were also photos and apparently, the ratio of interpreters to deaf people is one in fifty. The conference was good and over the two days, there were many references made to deaf employment.

Jemina:  After the conference and all those presentations, I recently delivered a training webinar for ASLI, the interpreting association here in the UK.  I gave a presentation and facilitated a discussion online and I think we had about 40 participants watching.  I explained to them all about the DESIGNS project and picked out some themes from a Europe-wide perspective. Then we focussed in on the UK and I explained how we’d interviewed deaf people, employers and interpreters, so I was talking to them about BSL interpreters and what we’d found here in the UK.  It was interesting – there were lots of questions; they were looking for any tips we might have that could help improve things, because they are all too aware of the barriers.  Whilst the government makes money available via ATW that does not mean that interpreters are automatically provided and everything goes smoothly, so it was interesting to have that discussion with them, and the feedback from the session was good as well.

Audrey: … and that’s why we’re looking to arrange further training sessions like that including a session in November for employers, because of them don’t know how to recruit deaf people or how to work with interpreters. We are doing that in partnership with Vercida…

Jemina: … Yes, they provide a platform to support employers to recruit disabled people across the board; they have really supported us a lot with this project, helping us to make contact with employers.

Audrey:  We are also going to work in with them to set the training for employers and when we have something, we feel works well, we will make it available online and then it will be shared with everyone…

Jemina: … that will act as a pilot. Then we will be doing training for interpreters here in Scotland in partnership with Deaf Action in Edinburgh, where they have an employment service and an interpreting service.  The training will be more practical, as opposed to the Asli webinar, which had more of a presentational style, sharing the data and the findings and etc. This will be much more ‘hands on’ for working interpreters.  We are hoping to have about 20 interpreters at the session in December.

Audrey:   We will be taking all the data we have gathered from the interviews we have conducted and sharing that with employers and interpreters.

Our next whole team project meeting is in Antwerp in Belgium in December where we will be discussing next steps.

Jemina:  Plus as a project team we’ll delivering training in partnership with efsli for interpreters from all over Europe and those who train interpreters; that will build on what we’ve done so far and we’ll do that while we’re there in Antwerp. Then a week later, we will both be delivering training here in the UK.

So that’s pretty much everything we are doing…

Audrey:  I am looking forward to it. The training is important if we are to start removing the barriers that deaf people face trying to find employment and it is why we are setting that up for employers and interpreters. The training for deaf people will be starting next year, isn’t that right?

Jemina:  Yes, exciting times, so keep an eye out for further updates!


*Thanks to Ramon Woolfe for sharing his photos taken at the efsli event.

On audio-recorded presentations, Australian accents, and translated deaf selves

By: Annelies Kusters and Jemina Napier

International Sign version:

This blogpost was originally posted on the Mobile Deaf website on Friday 14th September 2018. See:


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!).

Example three. After another applied linguistics conference where I gave a keynote earlier this year, the TLANG closing event, someone wrote about my keynote presentation “Her keynote was an especially engaging end to the day as it was impressively and seamlessly presented in both sign language and spoken English.“ (

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.