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.

Looking for participants for anti-racism and anti-discrimination research project

A few months ago we posted some information on a new research project in LINCS on how racist hate crimes are communicatively constructed. The project is called RADAR  Regulating AntiDiscrimination and AntiRacism – JUST/2013/FRAC/AG/6271. It brings together 9 partners from 6 countries and it is funded by the European Commission Directorate General for Justice.

The overall aim of the project is to  provide law enforcement officials and legal professionals with the necessary tools to facilitate the identification of ‘racial’ hate- motivated and hate-producing communication. This will be achieved through training activities and events, but the project will also provide a handbook, comparative studies and analyses. For more information on the project’s objectives, deliverables and individual work packages, please visit the project website.

The project is still in its initial stages; it started in November 2014 and will end in October 2016.

We are currently looking for victims of racial harassment or racist abuse for the purpose of conducting interviews on their experience(s). If you have been the victim of racist abuse in the UK and you would like to be interviewed for the purposes of this project (your personal details will not be disclosed), please contact Dr. Katerina Strani at  A.Strani@hw.ac.uk

When ‘racially’-motivated hate crimes are not recognised as such, this leads to a violation of fundamental human rights.

Exploring Access to Mental Health Care Services for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Patients

by Isabelle Perez

The rising prevalence of mental illness is a growing concern for societies worldwide and access to mental health care is one of the top public health priorities in Scotland, as in many countries. In addition, as more and more people migrate and settle or take refuge in countries with a dominant language other than their own, the need for interpreting/cultural mediation in mental health care settings is also on the increase.

The research project on Access to Mental Health Care for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Patients, supported by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute (SUII), is led by the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland (CTISS), based at Heriot-Watt University, in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde, home to the Centre for Health Policy; the Psychiatric Care Unit, at St John’s Hospital, Livingston; and the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland.

The aim of the project is to bring together mental health practitioners, interpreters, health care administrators, policy makers and academics to discuss the most salient care provision issues with the goal of understanding systemic difficulties and enhancing access to services.

A one-day research seminar will take place on Thursday 9 April at the SUII premises in Glasgow. A multidisciplinary group of international experts from Australia, Canada, China, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and the US will discuss and scope, from their respective viewpoints, current issues faced in the provision of mental health care to linguistically and culturally diverse patients.

The same group of international experts will contribute to a linked open seminar with the wider stakeholder community to be held on the morning of Friday 10 April at the Riccarton campus of Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh.  This seminar aims to extend the discussion from research to application by creating an opportunity to share experiences and examples of good practice from around the world.

For practical information and to register for either or both events, please visit the project webpage.

For further details please contact Professor Isabelle Perez, Languages & Intercultural Studies (LINCS).

New project: RADAR – Regulating Anti-discrimination and Anti-Racism

Final Logo Radar

The RADAR project has officially started!

Funded by the European Commission Directorate General for Justice, RADAR (RADAR – Regulating AntiDiscrimination and AntiRacism – JUST/2013/FRAC/AG/6271) involves 9 partners including Heriot-Watt and it will be conducted over 24 months (November 2014 – October 2016). The  aim is to provide law enforcement officials and legal professionals with the necessary tools to facilitate the identification of “racially motivated” hate communication.

In European societies, increasingly reshaped by migration, the fight against racism and xenophobia is a key challenge for democracy and civil life. Despite anti-discrimination legislation that is in force in EU Member States, there is still a fundamental problem in identifying the different forms of racism and xenophobia. These may consist of physical attacks against people or of hate speech – ‘racial’ and xenophobic discourses “which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin” (Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers” Recommendation 97(20)).

However, it is not always easy to distinguish between, non-‘racial’ and ‘racial’ violence. Even though it is easier to prosecute cases of physical offences against people, it is more difficult – for judges, politicians and the public – to identify when there is xenophobia behind a physical offence, because it has to be interpreted within the context in which it has taken place. This interpretative work allows us to define such actions in terms of hate crime offences. Often ‘racial’ hate crimes are not recognised as such, and this leads to an underestimation of the phenomenon. Treating crimes that are motivated by ‘racial’ hatred as non-‘racial’ crimes leads to the violation of fundamental human rights. It is therefore essential that law enforcing and legal authorities, along with journalists and politicians, have tools for correctly identifying the motivation that underlies such a criminal act.

A hate crime is never an isolated act; it is usually triggered and fostered by hate speech, consisting of discourses that express disdain, hatred, prejudice, etc. Such discourses are performed not only in direct face-to-face communication through public and private conversations, but they also take place online, in political discourses, as well as in other institutional contexts. It has to be stressed that not only hate speech in the sense of verbal messages leads to hate crimes, but this is inspired also by other hate-oriented communication practices based on other communication levels, such as voice (paraverbal message), body-language (non-verbal message), images (visual message). Finally, the racist discourse often does not simply assume the forms of explicit hatred, prejudice and disdain, but it takes the form of an apparently benevolent recognition of the differences that, however, presupposes a stereotypisation of an individual’s cultural and social identity. It seems like a respectful recognition of differences, but it turns into stereotypes and prejudices that become labels and stigmas for the individuals.

Therefore, the overall aim of this project is to provide law enforcement officials and legal professionals with the necessary tools, mainly through open training activities, aimed at facilitating the identification of ‘racial’ motivated hate communication. For this purpose, a communication-based training concept is worked out, on the one side, for professionals and actual or potential hate-crime victims (national level) and, on the other side, for trainers (international level). Further learning resources and facilities are provided to offer online learning events. Finally the project aims at producing a publication with concrete tools, recommendations and best practice examples to facilitate anti-discrimination and anti-racist actions and regulations.

Watch this space for the project website and further details. For more information, contact Katerina Strani in LINCS.