BSL Highlights

As the year draws to a close, here are 10 highlights from the work of the British Sign Language team at Heriot-Watt University.

We have grown significantly during 2013. New additions to the family include Professor Jemina Napier, plus Clare Canton, Yvonne Waddell and Stacey Webb. This means we now have six PhD students working on sign language topics, too. To put faces to names, see https://lifeinlincs.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/whos-who-in-bsl-at-heriot-watt-university/! And there’ll be more in the new year: we’ve just confirmed the appointment of BBC news interpreter and the ‘Hot Fingers’ fingerspelling challenge competition organiser, Rob Skinner, as a Research Associate from January 2014, and we expect more new faces to follow.

Our fabulous first ever group of full-time BSL students completed year one of their programme! “The course has blown my expectations out of the water!… We have bonded very closely over the first year and it is an amazingly supportive and tight group”, said Jude Caldwell in the print version of this article.

Gary Quinn’s work on Science Signs has been recognised and praised over and over again. It featured in the New York Times last December, and the Times Higher Education magazine this year. Gary is in such demand that he’s even had to turn down the chance to work with Professor Brian Cox!

Dr Svenja Wurm has co-ordinated the recruitment of a new group of 24 students to our unique international MSc programme for advanced sign language interpreters, EUMASLI. Following the successful graduation of 100% of EUMASLI#1 students, the EUMASLI#2 group is 50% larger than previously, includes 6 Deaf students, and features participants from three continents (Europe, North America, Africa).

In August, we made our first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, as part of the first ever ‘Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas’! The deliberately provocative topic – ‘Send the Deaf to Orkney’ – featured a guest appearance from SignVideo’s Jeff McWhinney, generated the largest audience of the whole Festival for the Cabaret organisers, and is summarised here by Graham Turner.

We continued to offer our Open Lecture series, EdSigns, venturing successfully into live video streaming for the first time with the inaugural EdSign appearance of Jemina Napier. The 2013 highlight was the full house welcome for Colin Allen, President of the World Federation of the Deaf http://wfdeaf.org/, exhorting one and all to promote sign languages through international implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml. The EdSign programme for Spring 2014 is the strongest ever – feel free to come and join us: all are welcome!

We submitted successful proposals for new projects, two of which commence early in 2014. The Directorate General for Justice of the European Commission approved a pilot project called INSIGN to a consortium including ourselves, led by the European Union of the Deaf, to investigate improving communication between Deaf people and the EU institutions. And JUSTISIGNS  has also received funding from the Directorate General for Education & Culture to improve Deaf access to justice across Europe.

As always, we continued to disseminate our work through publications (including Jemina Napier’s ‘Research Methods in Interpreting’  and many others) and presentations around the world, such as Gary Quinn’s well-received paper at the first Sign Language Teachers conference in Prague.

We dedicated a significant amount of our time to taking the message about BSL and interpreting into the world of policy and politics. For example, in September, our input helped the Liberal Democrats to pass a motion calling for enhanced recognition of BSL.  We met with members of the Scottish, UK and European parliaments, and worked closely with bodies such as the British Deaf Association, Scottish Council on Deafness and the Scottish Government’s Equality Unit throughout the year.

Finally, we played our part in driving forward perhaps the biggest BSL development in Scotland: the adoption of a BSL Bill at the Scottish Parliament in 2014. In particular, we’re proud to say that many of our first-year students made well-received responses to the formal public consultation on the Bill, with Lisa Li in particular being prominently quoted in the summary report.

What have we done this year to make us feel proud? All of the above.

Author: Graham Turner

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