Justisigns Translation workshop

 By Jemina Napier

       hwnewlogo         justisigns        Police ScotlandEU Lifelong Learning

 

Click here to see a version of this blogpost in BSL.

 

As part of the Justisigns project, which is funded through the European Commission Lifelong Learning Programme, a masterclass was run in November 2015 jointly between the Heriot-Watt University BSL/Justisigns team and Police Scotland and included CID/police interview advisors, Deaf community representatives and BSL/English interpreters. The workshop involved joint and group sessions on the potential barriers for deaf people in accessing police interviews, the challenges for interpreters to accurately convey the goals of police interviewers, and deaf/sign language awareness raising for police interviewers, as well as interactive simulation role plays of BSL interpreted police interviews.

One of the issues raised during the discussions was the lack of standardization in a translation of the Scottish police caution, so interpreters may produce different versions of the caution in BSL. As the police caution is legally binding, the words are used specifically and are read out verbatim by police interviewers and sometimes followed up by an explanation if the person being questioned does not understand the formal caution.

Although a BSL translation of the English police caution is available, the wording of the caution is different from the Scottish caution, and therefore the BSL translation is also different from what is needed in Scotland.

At the masterclass workshop it was identified that having a BSL translation of the Scottish Common Law Caution available on video as a reference point for police, interpreters and the Deaf community would be a useful development. The ideal would be for a BSL translation to be accessible online for police to access on a mobile device (for example if detaining someone before an interpreter arrives) or for interpreters or deaf people to access at the point of a police interview (e.g. through an iPad or computer). At no point would the availability of the BSL translation circumvent the need for a BSL/English interpreter, as it is a legal requirement for interpreters to be present for any interaction between a police officer and a person who uses a different language.

So as a follow-up to the masterclass, we organized a translation workshop and invited key stakeholder representatives to be involved in discussing, developing and finalizing a standard BSL translation of the Scottish police caution. In addition to the Heriot-Watt University BSL/Justisigns team participants included representatives from Police Scotland, the British Deaf Association (Scotland), experienced legal BSL/English interpreters and a deaf interpreter.

The participants engaged in a ‘forward and backward’ translation process (Tate, Collins & Tymms, 2003), reviewing drafts of BSL translations, discussing lexical and legal conceptual challenges and creating new BSL versions of the caution.

At the end of the workshop a final version was agreed upon and filmed. This BSL translation of the Scottish Law Caution is now available to be referenced by BSL/English interpreters and interpreting students, police officers and Deaf community members in Scotland. 

Clare Canton

(Scottish Law Caution BSL translation translated by deaf interpreter, Clare Canton)

As part of the discussions it was also agreed to film an explanation of the Scottish Law Caution in BSL, to reflect what typically happens in a police interview where a police offer would read the caution verbatim, and then provide an explanation. The explanation that we agreed upon is as follows:

This Scottish police Caution means: You have the right to be silent. You don’t have to answer any questions, and you don’t have to tell me anything about what’s happened. But if do you have any explanation or comment to give at any point in this process, this is your opportunity to do that and we will record it (written, audio, video). And the recording may be used for further investigation in this case and in court proceedings.

This BSL translation of the explanation is also now available to be referenced by BSL/English interpreters and interpreting students, police officers and Deaf community members in Scotland.

Brenda Mackay

(Scottish Law Caution BSL explanation produced by legal interpreter, Brenda Mackay)

 

We would like to thank all the workshop participants for their contribution to creating this resource for interpreters, police and deaf BSL users in Scotland, and encourage as many people as possible to access this resource.

 

Translating the Deaf Self: An update

 

By Jemina Napier

 

Click here to see a BSL version of the blog

 

Members of Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies Scotland (Jemina Napier and Robert Skinner) are working in collaboration with researchers from the Social Research with Deaf People (SORD) group at the University of Manchester (Alys Young and Rosemary Oram) on an 18-month interdisciplinary project funded through the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Translating Cultures Research Innovation Grant. Dr Noel O’Connell was originally a member of the research team, but returned to Ireland at the end of 2015, so Robert joined the team.

 

The project team members are interested in exploring real-life experiences of Deaf BSL users who use sign language interpreters and for whom this may be an everyday experience. Although there has been substantive previous research about sign language interpreting there has been little about the perspectives of Deaf people themselves and none that has really asked what the impact might be on a Deaf person of ‘being translated’, or only known through translation.

 

For example, we consider the following questions:

 

  • When Deaf people interact with hearing people through interpreters do they think that the hearing person can really see them for who they are?

 

  • Does the Deaf person feel they get the attention they deserve or are people just fascinated by the interpreter?

 

  • Does the use of interpreters in everyday life impact on a Deaf person’s positive mental well being?

 

  • What is it like to be a Deaf professional and use interpreters? Are they regarded for their skills and treated equally?

 

These are the kinds of issues we mean by ‘impact’.

 

In collaboration with Action Deafness (Leicester) and Deaf Connections (Glasgow), to date we have interviewed 28 people and collected over 15 hours of data through telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews and focus groups and a community participatory group with Deaf community members, Deaf professionals, sign language interpreters, parents with deaf children, and hearing people that work with Deaf colleagues.

 

Our preliminary analysis is revealing some interesting findings and confirming that the process of being perceived only through interpreters is an issue that all stakeholders have something to say about!

 

We have also been working with a Stakeholder Advisory Group, and have held two meetings in Scotland with representatives from the British Deaf Association (Scotland), the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters, National Deaf Children Society (Scotland), Action on Hearing Loss (Scotland), Deaf Action (Edinburgh) and Deaf Connections (Glasgow). The Advisory Group has given the research team guidance on the research method, data collection, recruitment of participants and also about potential implications of the research.

 

At the moment we are in the final stages of data collection, where we are filming deaf people in real situations with interpreters and then conducting a ‘think aloud protocol’ (TAP) with the deaf people afterwards, where they watch the video and comment on any issues they see in relation to the experience of interacting with people through an interpreter.

 

The use of TAPs is a new methodology that we are testing out in this project, as it has been used before in translation and interpreting studies (see for example Russell & Winston, 2014), but we are trialling the feasibility of TAPs with visual languages.

 

Once all the data is collected and analysed we will be working with the Deaf-led production company AC2.Com Productions to produce a 3-minute video drama in BSL to represent the issues that are identified in the data. This video will be made widely available through our website and entered into Deaf Film Festivals.

 

As the AHRC is keen to support the development of academic skills in young researchers through capacity building (see for example their case study of capacity building in heritage studies), we are pleased to be welcoming young deaf BSL user, Zoe McWhinney, to the team in June for a 2-week internship placement. Zoe is currently doing her undergraduate degree at the University of Birmingham and is an active member of the European Deaf Students Union. Zoe will be involved in supporting the next Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting, developing the script for the video drama and liaising with AC2.Com, and other project tasks.

 

On completion of the project, once all the data analysis is complete we will provide another update, so watch this space!

 

 

 

Heriot-Watt University BSL interpreting and community placements

By Jemina Napier

 <Click here to see this blog post in BSL>

 

As many people in the Scottish Deaf community and BSL/English interpreting profession will know, this year is the first time that we have a group BSL/English interpreting students completing their final year of studying in a 4-year undergraduate programme. This is the only university in Scotland that offers a training programme that is approved by the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI) and the National Registers of Communication Professionals with working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) as a route to professional qualification and registration to practice as a sign language interpreter. The first group of students will graduate in June 2016.

Students heading out on interpreting work placement for the first time

From January – May 2016 it is the current 4th year students’ final semester and one of the compulsory requirements is for students to complete an interpreting work placement. During this placement students will be shadowing professional interpreters in real interpreting assignments.

The aim of the interpreting work placement is to:

  1. To give students the opportunity to access authentic ‘real-world’ interpreting situations
  2. To provide students with the opportunity to observe the professional practice of qualified interpreters at work
  3. To facilitate the opportunity for students to try interpreting in ‘real-world’ interpreting situations, in a safe and supported environment, where appropriate and with the agreement of all parties
  4. To enable students to discuss, critique and reflect on their observations of other interpreters and their own professional practice

 

The interpreting work placement will take place in two 1-week blocks (22-26 February and 4-8 April).

The organisation of the interpreting work placement would not be possible without the support of the key organisations SASLI and NRCPD who have endorsed that interpreters can received Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points for acting as mentors.

But even more importantly, it could not take place without the collaboration and support of professional sign language interpreters in Scotland, who are giving their time, energy and commitment to supporting these students. We would like to specifically thank the list of interpreters below who have agreed to take on students this year:

  1. Paul Belmonte (Edinburgh)
  2. Andy Carmichael (Edinburgh)
  3. Lesley Crerar (Aberdeen)
  4. Andrew Dewey (Ayr)
  5. Linda Duncan (Fife)
  6. Marion Fletcher (Edinburgh)
  7. Rebecca Goodall (Inverness)
  8. Donna Jewell (Falkirk)
  9. Brenda Mackay (Fife)
  10. Paula Marshall (Denny)
  11. Robert McCourt (Glasgow)
  12. Mary McDevitt (Falkirk)
  13. Drena O’Malley (Glasgow)
  14. Mark Sherwin (Edinburgh)
  15. Linda Thomson (Glasgow)
  16. Helen Dunipace
  17. Yvonne Waddell

 

We know that there are many more interpreters all over Scotland that might be interested in becoming a student mentor, and in future years we will be looking for more mentors as student numbers increase, so if you are interested please contact Jemina Napier as the interpreting placement coordinator by email.

We would also like to thank Deaf BSL users in Scotland in advance for their support of our students, and hope that you will encourage them in their efforts to develop their skills to become professional interpreters. The students to look out for are:

  1. Rachel Amey
  2. Jude Caldwell
  3. Greg Colquhoun
  4. Niamh Cochrane
  5. Virginia Dugo
  6. Scott Ellerington
  7. Rachel Evans
  8. Jill Gallacher
  9. Nadia Krupova
  10. Helena Laverty
  11. Lisa Li
  12. Grace McNeill
  13. Samuel Rojas
  14. Marie Elliott

Community placement

We would also like to acknowledge the support of all the organisations throughout the UK that are providing community work placement experiences for our 3rd year students. The 3rd year placement is different from the 4th year placement as it takes place over a whole year, and students are required to work in two different organisations where BSL is used every day so that they can have immersion in the language and culture of Deaf people every day. While on placement, the students do project work or other tasks (but not interpreting) and participate in general organizational activities.

This year is the second year that organisations have hosted students on community work placements, and we are appreciative of the efforts that the organisations go to in order to support our students to develop their BSL skills and Deaf community and cultural awareness.

It has been a steep learning curve for us at Heriot-Watt University and also for our community organisation partners, as this is a new approach to sign language interpreter training and as far as we know Heriot-Watt University is the first programme in the world to require students to take a 1-year language immersion community placement. We could not make this happen without the close collaboration with Deaf BSL users and Deaf community organisations.

Graham H. Turner, Coordinator of the BSL Community Work Placements notes that:

“Heriot-Watt’s BSL team members have many years’ experience of interpreter education. We were very conscious of the widespread feeling that university-educated interpreters tend to know what to do in the classroom, but do not have the kind of profound appreciation of Deaf lives that comes from being close to the ‘beating heart’ of the community. Our partners are working with us to change that. We simply couldn’t create on our campus the kind of learning experience that they can offer. If our programme fully achieves its aims, it will be in no small part because of the contribution partner organisations are making to developing the interpreters that they wish to work with in the future.”

So we would like to thank all of the organisations listed below who have so far hosted students on community work placement:

Action on Deafness (Leicester)
Birmingham Institute of the Deaf (BID)
British Deaf Association (BDA Scotland & Northern Ireland)
Deaf Action (Edinburgh)
Deaf Connections (Glasgow)
Deaf Direct (Worcester)
Deafness Support Network (Northwich)
DeafPlus (London)
Deafway (Preston)
Deaf Links (Dundee)
Donaldsons School (Linlithgow)
Hampshire Deaf Association – Sonus (Southampton)
Manchester Deaf Centre (Manchester)
National Deaf Services/National Deaf CAMHS (London)
Nottinghamshire Deaf Society (Nottingham)
Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) (London, Kent & Colchester)
Ericsson Access Services (formerly RedBee Media) (London)
Remark! (London)
Scottish Council on Deafness (Glasgow)
SignVideo (London & Glasgow)
Solar Bear (Glasgow)

 

We are always looking for new community partners, so any interested organisations can contact Graham H. Turner by email.

Finally, Gary Quinn, the Head of the BSL section at Heriot-Watt University says:

“As programme coordinator, I would like to thank all the interpreters and staff in the community organisations that are supporting the degree at Heriot-Watt University by giving our students the opportunity to develop more ‘real-life’ awareness of the Deaf and Interpreting communities in the UK. I know the students have appreciated your efforts to support their learning and each of you has contributed a vital part to our students’ development, which will undoubtedly make our graduates better prepared for the professional world of BSL/English Interpreting.”

In sum, we would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who has direct involvement in supporting students studying BSL/English interpreting at Heriot-Watt University and we wish our 4th year students who are about to go out on interpreting placement the best of luck and hope that they have a positive experience.

 

New CPD courses in LINCS!

We are really excited to announce two new CPD courses in LINCS. In addition to the already successful Easter and Summer Schools in Interpreting, we are now offering a 1-day training workshop on Interpreters and Translators as Entrepreneurs in March and a CAT Tools series in April.

This year’s Easter School comprises 1 week of Introduction to Interpreting and 1 week of Intensive Interpreting Practice .

Please note that the above courses only cover spoken languages. Watch this space for CPD courses on Interpreting Practice in signed languages.

But don’t stop reading yet, SLIs! The 1-day workshop on Interpreters and Translators as Entrepreneurs applies to all interpreting professionals and it is led by Sue Leschen, who is a member of numerous professional organisations including the Regulatory Board for Sign Language Interpreters and Translators (RBSLI).

Last but certainly not least, we are pleased to announce our CAT Tools Series, starting with Trados Studio 2015. The 1-day Beginners Course takes place on April 5th and the 1-day Advanced Course takes place on April 22nd.

For more information on all our spring courses, please click here. And don’t forget our Applied English and Interpreting Summer School!

Apply now for an Early Bird Discount!

 

Sign Language in Action

by Jemina Napier

Click here to see this blog in International Sign, British Sign Language or Irish Sign Language

Jemina book

Sign Language in Action is a new book just published by Palgrave as part of the Research & Practice in Applied Linguistics series.

The book is co-authored by Jemina Napier and Lorraine Leeson, who both have extensive experience as sign language researchers, educators and interpreter practitioners – Jemina in the UK and Australia, and Lorraine in Ireland, with briefer stints in Belgium, the UK and the USA.

We have both conducted research and written extensively on various topics which can be considered under the umbrella of applied linguistics, including sign linguistics, sign language discourse, sign language and identity, sign language learning and teaching, and sign language interpreting and translation.

After many conversations on our mutual research interests, we decided to collaborate on writing this book to draw together all the threads from our research into one overview.

So the book defines the notion of applied sign linguistics by drawing on data from projects that have explored sign language in action in various domains. The data sources have been drawn from various studies have been conducted by us both.

As well as defining key concepts and giving an overview of existing research, the book provides clear guidance on conducting applied sign linguistics research, with suggestions for new research topics.

The book is targeted at sign language and sign language interpreting students, sign language teachers, researchers, interpreter practitioners and educators, Deaf Studies teachers and students, educators working with deaf children, and policy makers.

It will also be of interest to other people working with minority language communities and to scholars and practitioners in applied linguistics research more generally.

Following on from an earlier blog post by Jemina that discussed the ethics of conducting sign language interpreting research without deaf people involved, we feel it necessary to position ourselves in relation to the focus of this book, as neither of us are deaf.

So here, we discuss our role as hearing people doing sign language research, and our goals in writing this book.

The involvement of non-deaf people in the deaf community has been an on-going and vexatious issue. There has been long recognition of the value that ‘hearing’ people bring to the deaf community if they embrace the values of the community and can sign fluently enough to engage with deaf people.

There have been attempts to separate the identity of hearing people that are involved in the deaf community from those ‘other’ non-deaf people who do not use sign language and who are considered as ‘outsiders’ (see Napier, 2002; Ladd, 2003).

In the USA, there is currently much debate about the notion of interpreters having ‘Deaf-HEART’.

Others have suggested that there should be no reference to audiological status, and instead we should refer to a community of ‘sign language users’ (Bahan, 1997), ‘sign language persons’ (Jokinen, 2001) or ‘sign language peoples’ (Batterbury, 2012; Batterbury, Ladd & Gulliver, 2007).

Whichever convention you prefer, we identify ourselves as hearing people; we align ourselves with deaf people and their values based on our long involvement in the community, and we bring that subjectivity to our research and our writing.

There is also much debate in the deaf community and among researchers about the potential oppression that deaf people face in having non-deaf people conduct research on their community, with emphasis on the need for research to be with deaf sign language users (Sutherland & Young, 2014; Turner & Harrington, 2000) and to adopt a ‘community participatory approach’ (Emery, 2011; Napier & Sabolcec, et al, 2013; Young & Temple, 2014).

Consequently there is an emerging body of work that explores the need for ethical approaches to conducting sign language research in order to ensure that there is involvement from deaf sign language users in conducting the research; that deaf people’s views are taken into consideration; and that the research is ‘deaf-led’ (see Harris, Holmes & Mertens, 2009; Hochgesang , Villanueva, Mathur, Lillo-Martin, 2010; Mertens, 2010; Singleton, Jones & Hanumantha, 2012; Singleton, Martin & Morgan, 2015)

We do not see ourselves as positioned only in Deaf Studies. As linguists and interpreting studies researchers we see our work within a broader context of applied linguistics and intercultural communication, and the languages that we work with happen to include signed languages.

Thus our focus in our book is on sign language use, and not deafness.

We acknowledge though that although we are allies of the deaf community, we are not deaf, and therefore do not have shared life experience with deaf people. We are guests in the deaf community (as suggested by O’Brien & Emery, 2013), but we do have a strong philosophy of collaboration with the deaf community collectively and individually in all our research and practice.

We believe that it is important for deaf and hearing researchers to work together for the best interests of the worldwide deaf community, but we recognise the power we have as hearing people in the community and the historical backdrop of hearing researchers dominating the field.

We have ‘hearing privilege’, but privilege does not always have to occupy a negative position. We would assert that we accept the responsibility of having hearing privilege (Storme, 2014), and we use our hearing privilege positively to broker engagement and educate inside and outside the community.

 Because of our hearing privilege we get invited to do things like write a book, but we believe that we act in a way that is congruent with deaf cultural norms and values, and one of those values is reciprocity.

Adam (2015) talks about the importance of disseminating information about sign language research in sign language, and you will notice that the majority of blog posts about sign language research on the LifeinLINCS page have links to signed versions (including this one).

We would like to take this one step further – all the royalties from this book will be donated to the World Federation of the Deaf to support their on-going work with deaf sign language users throughout the world. So we are using our hearing privilege to give back to the deaf community.

This book focuses on sign language in action; where and how it is used, who by, and how we can research sign language in action in order to better understand the relationship between sign language use, culture and identity. For us, we have deliberately focussed our discussion on how deaf and hearing people use sign language, and the implications for learning and teaching and professional practice, in the hope that the information in the book will benefit all sign language users and the values of the deaf community worldwide.

Signposting Professional Practice: Intercultural Communication and Interpretation

Everyone was there.

LINCS staff from all sections, students, colleagues from universities all over the UK, Heads of Schools, Vice-Principals, technicians, photographers, interpreters, representatives from Deaf organisations, Deaf friends. A little girl with long blonde hair was laughing and signing happily with her grandparents, who were all dressed to the nines for the occasion.

It was the inaugural lecture of Prof Jemina Napier, Head of Department of LINCS, entitled “Signposting Professional Practice: Intercultural Communication and Interpretation”.

Jemina started her lecture in British Sign Language, stating, through the voice of her interpreter, Yvonne Waddell, that she would like to speak in her mother tongue. She not only has Deaf parents and Deaf in-laws (the proud grandparents of the young girl mentioned earlier), but she also comes from a family of 4 generations of Deaf people. She explained how she grew up in a bilingual, bicultural environment (English <> BSL), which led her, among other things, to feature in the Sign and Say books as a child, demonstrating everyday terms such as “doctor”, “teach”, “Australia”, all prophetic with regard to her later career development. This also led to her first BSL interpreting assignment at age 17 (!). She showed footage of her various interpreting jobs, including interpreting during Princess Diana’s funeral and for the Australian Prime Minister in 2011.

But when she was still starting out around 20 years ago, there was no formal training for BSL interpreters. Back then, unfortunately, being bilingual was enough. Later on, as a practising interpreter, she had the opportunity to study for an MA in BSL/ English Interpreting at Durham University. This sparked her interest in research and so she went to Australia to pursue her PhD in Sign Language Interpreting at Macquarie University. Along the way, she also managed to learn Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN), American Sign Language (ASL) and International Sign, which is no mean feat, as Signed Languages are by no means similar, even though some of them belong to language families like spoken languages. For example, American Sign Language and French Sign Language belong to the same language family, which is quite distinct from BSL and AUSLAN, which belong to a different language family.

At this point, Jemina switched from BSL to English. She explained that she learned to tell stories in BSL, her mother tongue, but she learned to talk about research in English. For the hearing members of the audience, it seemed that Jemina learned to tell stories with a thick Scottish accent (Yvonne Waddell!) and to talk about her research with a slight Australian twang (Jemina’s own accent, developed while living in Australia for 15 years). Yvonne was Jemina’s voice for the first half of the lecture and Brenda MacKay was Jemina’s hands for the second half.

So the story moves to research. With a PhD under her belt, Jemina started developing her research profile in intercultural communication. She established the Postgraduate Diploma in Auslan/ English Interpreting in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University in Sydney in 2002, and became Head of Translation & Interpreting and Director of the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Research at Macquarie University from 2007 until 2012.

She identified policy, practice, pedagogy and provision of interpreting services as her four main areas of interest. All this research focuses on removing the barriers to allow access for and participation in citizenship for the Deaf community. Her sign language interpreting research focuses on medical, legal, education and workplace interpreting settings. Part of her research into legal settings has included running a two-day mock trial with 11 hearing jurors and one Deaf juror.

Jemina finished off by emphasising that being bilingual is not enough to become an interpreter and that interpreter education is vital for professional practice. She ended on a positive note on the potential for research collaborations between signed and spoken languages. BSL is now recognised in Scotland on a par with other minority languages, such as Gaelic, which is a huge achievement both for BSL users and for Scottish society as a whole. Jemina was asked how Heriot-Watt can capitalise on the recent BSL (Scotland) Bill. She replied that “we now have the chance to become the BSL hub for Scotland”.

The best is yet to come.

For a Storify version of the lecture, click here.

For a video of the full lecture, click here.

Final-year BSL students at the Scottish Parliament

Reflections from a teacher

by Stacey Webb, Assistant Professor in Sign Language Studies

It is not every day you get to bring your classroom to the real world.  So often we try to bring the real world to the classroom and it just never replicates real life!  Recently we listened and practised interpreting a graduation speech given by Steve Jobs to a group of university graduates. Although it was an inspiring speech, can you imagine the energy at the ceremony on the day?  Imagine the excited students, the proud parents and teachers.  Imagine how that energy can influence the overall interpretation. Imagine seeing the actual graduate in the audience.  I believe that the simple fact of knowing the interpretation is real, that it matters to someone, makes an incredible difference in an interpreter’s performance. However, we only have so much time to prepare our students to become interpreters, ultimately leaving much of our work to occur artificially in the classroom.  So when opportunities present themselves to have our students safely work in real settings, we as educators must do what we can to grab those opportunities and provide them to our students.

I know that for our students, week 1 of year 4 may seem a bit too soon to have the complete real life interpreting experience! Yet could it have been more perfect timing that the final stage of the BSL (Scotland) Bill was being debated in the Scottish Parliament on the same day of our first Advanced Interpreting class?  I call that a unique opportunity. With many thanks to Ruth Connelly at Scottish Parliament and our own Fanny Chouc  in LINCS, our students were given the opportunity to be part of one of the most historical days for Scotland’s Deaf Community. We hosted our class in the real world (we hosted our class at the Scottish Parliament!)

Heriot-Watt students were dressed for success when they signed in with security as ‘real’ interpreters, received official Parliament contractor badges, made their way up to the interpreting booths (where so many professional interpreters have worked before) and practised interpreting a session in Parliament (and again.. not just any session but the BSL Bill (Scotland) session). So if you were at Parliament on 17 September 2015 and happened to lookup at the booths to see several bodies signing and began to wonder, “Who are they?” “What are they doing up there?”- I am here to tell you they were Heriot-Watt students busy at work observing the professional interpreters, practising their own interpretations, reflecting on the formal register of the environment and realizing just how difficult interpreting is. One phrase that seemed to be said over and over again after Parliament was, “Wow, the bar has really been set high”.

Sure, I could have played Mark Griffins speech in support of the bill in our classroom, but the energy wouldn’t have been the same, it wouldn’t have been real. We wouldn’t have dressed a bit sharper, we wouldn’t have signed in with security, and we definitely wouldn’t have felt the energy and excitement from the Deaf community. So although our students were still only practising it was so much more real than it ever could have been in a classroom.  And on that note, my heart felt thanks goes out to the Deaf community, working interpreters, and Scottish Parliament staff, who have played a real role in preparing the next generation of Sign Language interpreters.

Reflections from a student

by Marie Elliot, 4th Year LINCS Student (BSL)

If you were anywhere near the bottom of the Royal Mile on September 17th, you may have felt a tremor emanating from the Scottish Parliament Buildings.

And if you have read the previous post from Professor Graham Turner, then you’ll already know the reason why!

On that afternoon, the final Stage 3 reading of the British Sign language (Scotland) Bill took place. The Bill was passed unanimously and the long-awaited decision to give BSL legal recognition was made. This is a historic event in Deaf history, and the result of years of hard work and campaigning by many individuals and organisations. I would like to comment on the personal impact of being present and witnessing that amazing afternoon.

We 4th-years from the Heriot-Watt BSL/English Interpreting course were not only provided with tickets to join the audience, but were given the unique opportunity to view the proceedings from the interpreter booths. As interpreting students, it was valuable experience to see the processes at work, the high standard of interpreting required, and real-life applications of what we had learnt in theory.

There was a real air of excitement and expectation while everyone waited for other business to be concluded in the chamber, before the BSL (Scotland) Bill was reached in the agenda. So many interested parties were represented in the audience: organisation staff; Deaf and Deaf/blind individuals; People with Hearing dogs; interpreters and others with connections to the Deaf community. There were numerous interpreters, using BSL, Manual interpreting, relay interpreting, and all interpreting in their own style, giving us so many opportunities to observe how different interpreters work, the choices they make, and how they work together with other interpreters. As students in our final year, hoping to join the interpreting profession, it was an invaluable experience. There was so much going on that we could learn from, that we had to focus intensely, as we tried to take it all in.

When it came to the moment of announcing the result of the vote, we were not alone in holding our breath. It seemed that everyone in the audience was doing the same, and I’m sure there were countless others watching online who were also leaning forward with bated breath. The actual announcement produced an incredible moment, with cheers, smiles and waves of delight from the audience, and not a few tears of relief and joy. It was a privilege to join the audience in the foyer, where strangers were hugging each other in delight. After such a long history of oppression and exclusion, everyone was talking hopefully after future change, and increased opportunities for future generations of Deaf children.

Scotland has led the way, and Terry Riley of the British Deaf Association (BDA) expressed it perfectly, when he told me he hoped this event would have the effect of ripples growing into a tsunami, spreading their impact on national and international Deaf communities.

This really was an unforgettable event, and we are all very grateful to the staff at the Scottish Parliament and Heriot-Watt staff, who co-operated in allowing us to be so involved in this historic decision. Parliament staff made us very welcome, and we were impressed to see so many staff using some level of signing. This would have been appreciated by BSL-using visitors, as being respectful to them, and also to the importance attached by the Deaf community to this event.

The day was finished in the most marvellous way, celebrating in a nearby pub. Every single person in the room was able to use some level of signing. It was incredible to look around and see a room packed with people all using the language the Deaf community has fought so hard for, and knowing that language had just been shown respect by the Scottish Parliament. We are grateful to have been allowed to join in this unique moment, so thanks are due to the Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) who arranged the after-party, for allowing us to slip in and be a part of it, even though we were technically gate-crashing!

Hopefully there will be many more reasons in the future to celebrate with the Deaf community, after this ground-breaking Scottish Parliament decision.

Progression 2015:  A two-day celebration of Deaf Arts

by Michael Richardson

Only ten days into my Ph.D. research programme, exploring the engagement of the Deaf community and the use of British Sign Language (BSL) in theatre, I was fortunate to be able to attend a two day conference in Glasgow celebrating Deaf Arts and the progress made in that arena over the last decade.

The conference was hosted by Solar Bear, a Glasgow-based organisation which among other things runs Deaf Youth Theatre, a group working in BSL with young people from across the Central Belt; and Deaf Theatre Club, which encourages Deaf people to attend theatre performances across Scotland with BSL interpreters provided.  Recently Solar Bear has also been a key contributor to the development of the new B.A. Performance in BSL and English which was launched at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland earlier this month.

Also represented at the conference and giving presentations were Graeae Theatre Company and the Deaf and Hearing Theatre Ensemble from England; Tyst Theater, the National Deaf Theatre of Sweden; ANO Nedoslov, a Russian company using sign language as the basis of its performance practice; and composer Dr. Oliver Searle, who has recently written a piece of music specially for Deaf and hard of hearing children.

The two days of the conference were filled with practical presentations, giving delegates the opportunity to learn by engaging in different processes of theatre making, as well as the presentation of work, both theatre and film, with subsequent question and answer sessions designed to shed further light on different methods of creating accessible work.

The range of material explored at the conference was both exciting and stimulating.  Jenny Sealey, whose company Graeae creates work by and for Deaf, visually impaired and disabled people, advocates a fully accessible approach to theatre making that uses spoken English and BSL as well as sound effects and music.  Their practice aims to bring physical expression and audio description to bear as part of the communication from the stage:  this is accessibility in action, in the context of making great theatre.

In contrast, the Deaf and Hearing Ensemble have developed an approach which could conversely be described as theatre making in action, in the context of providing effective accessibility.  The ensemble is a group of theatre-makers with a range of skills who work in a fully collaborative way to produce theatre which is ripe with symbolism and emotional expression.  They use every possible mode of communication available to them including spoken English, BSL, movement, mime, projections (of text and images) and music and soundscapes to ensure that the meaning they want to put across is conveyed accessibly to Deaf and hearing audiences alike.

Using BSL as a communication tool within the production was central to all the work I saw during the conference, but there was an interesting variety in the ways in which BSL was used as a language within the different performance styles.  The two companies thus far described sat in the middle of the spectrum of techniques employed, as did the performance project created by Tyst Theater during the course of the second day.  But two other presentations sat at opposite extremes of the sign language as performance spectrum.

At one extreme was Deaf Youth Theatre, who had made a film, A Love Divided, with Deaf actors. The result was accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences, as a result of using body language, music and effective moving image story telling techniques to communicate to the audience.  However, almost no signed or spoken language was used, and the former was only intelligible through lip-reading:  no dialogue was heard.

At the other extreme was the Russian company ANO Nedoslov, for whom the use of sign language was a full theatrical statement  in itself.  Using techniques similar to those explored by Pollitt in Signart:  (British) sign language poetry as Gesamtkunstwerk (2014), the energetic physical actors and dancers of this company used the different linguistic components of signing to create a language of performance that was communicative, creative and beautiful.  During their presentation one of the actors signified the sport of skiing using a mix of facial expression, body language, hand shapes,  iconic signs and role shift to stunningly demonstrate to his audience a clear picture of the skis, the act of skiing, the snow, the landscape, the terrain, and finally the sheer emotional joy of completing the run successfully.  It was a perfect introduction to their techniques that set up high expectations for their later performance which were not disappointed.

In summary, the two days were a fantastic introduction to my field of research.  Having already some experience in creating theatre with Deaf people and using different techniques to include BSL in performance, it introduced me to approaches being used in other parts of the UK and further afield; and to the people involved in developing them.  I returned to my desk today energised and eager to explore the topic further over the coming years.

 Michael Richardson is a PhD student in the BSL section in LINCS

17th September 2015: A momentous day for the BSL Community

by Graham Turner
On a most extraordinary afternoon last week (17th September 2015, a date to be remembered), it seemed that half of Heriot-Watt’s Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies re-located to the Scottish Parliament for a few hours. Why? It was the Stage 3 (final) reading in the chamber of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill.
 
The Bill passed with unanimous support from the assembled Members of the Scottish Parliament, and will be fully ratified following Royal Assent in 4-8 weeks’ time.
 
We can state it dispassionately in the clear light of a later week, but this was anything but a calm and sober occasion. For evidence, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u61__M7dUS4. You can watch the whole debate from about 1:03:00. But you really only need to see the audience reaction to the final vote (from about 2:35:00) to get a feel for the electrifying nature of the moment.
 
You could ask any one of LINCS’ eight British Sign Language (BSL) staff members, or our six research students, or indeed any of the 60-odd undergraduate students now enrolled in years 1-4 of our honours degree programme, and they would be able to tell you why this was such a momentous day for the BSL community.
 
You can read, or watch in BSL, a perspective about the thinking behind the Bill from Heriot-Watt’s Professor Graham Turner (published last year to encourage engagement with the first draft of the Bill) here: http://limpingchicken.com/2014/12/05/turner-bsl-bill/.
 
There’s an excellent blog summarising what the Bill does (and doesn’t do) here: http://bristol.verbeeld.be/2015/09/17/british-sign-language-scotland-bill-passed-final-hurdle/. It is designed to create an ongoing framework for national planning around BSL which will lead to continuous, incremental improvement in the way BSL is protected and, crucially, promoted across Scottish public life. The community’s priorities will need to be elicited and sustainably enacted: some future scenarios are contained in evidence (http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_EducationandCultureCommittee/BSL%20Bill/TurnerProfessorGHHeriotWattUniversity.pdf)  sent from Heriot-Watt  to the Parliamentary committee which reviewed the Bill.
You can see from sources like this http://scotlandfutureforum.org/assets/library/files/application/BSL_Report.pdf that Heriot-Watt has championed this cause from the front since at least 2010. In fact, five years’ campaigning doesn’t even scratch the surface of the deep and painful history that underpins last week’s success. Heriot-Watt BSL staff can tell you story after story after story of friends, family and colleagues who have lived and died in pursuit of proper respect and recognition for BSL.
 
As Avril Hepner, the British Deaf Association’s Community Development Manager in Scotland, told Parliament in her evidence before the Bill passed, this legislation finally enables BSL users to feel that they belong in Scotland, and Scotland belongs to them along with everyone else.
 
Scotland therefore becomes the only part of the United Kingdom to secure legal recognition of BSL to date. Needless to say, campaigners everywhere will be encouraging Westminster to follow Scotland’s lead, and Heriot-Watt staff will be fully engaged in supporting their efforts.
 
So if you see a BSL user anywhere in the UK in the next wee while with a huge, undimmable grin on their face – you now know why. This is huge. Shake their hand.