Author: TigerDeafie

MobileDeaf research project, the fieldwork begins

I’m giving this blog a kiss of life, it’s had a nice long rest. I have also just posted a BSL youtube video aimed at deaf migrants in London and wanted to expand to a wider audience.

The inspiration for the revival is the new MobileDeaf research project that commenced last May 2017 and of which I am part. I won’t repeat information that’s already fully detailed and explained on that website in English and International sign.

In summary: the team has spent time preparing fieldwork, attending courses, conferences and holding regular meetings to discuss ethnographical documentary films, texts on translanguaging and intersectionality, and grappling with research ethics. Amongst other things.

My colleagues have been in their field for several weeks and while I have been in London since May, I have been travelling regularly to Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh to work with the team. My fieldwork started at the end of February 2017.

I am still finding my way by undertaking visits to various clubs and events in the capital city. I’ve met individuals who have shared ideas of where to meet deaf migrants for the research project.

During the next six months I will be undertaking fieldwork, and presently I’m engaged in a ‘mapping’ exercise. This involves getting an idea of where deaf migrants go for social events in the London deaf region. In the process of this journey so far, I have some early indicators of a thriving multicultural deaf peoples’ who meet and socialise in a multitude of spaces, but whose very way of life is constantly being interrupted and threatened by funding cuts.

That’s a very early summary, and the formal journey will be documented on the MobileDeaf website. In the next few days, I will be writing for the MobileDeaf blog and documenting my journey so far.

In my TigerDeafie blog, I’ll be writing informal entries, shorter pieces to encourage feedback. For example:

  • Are there places I am missing in my journey?
  • Is my perspective missing anything?
  • Does anybody have any thoughts or views on this research project?

As ever, I welcome feedback either in English, BSL or International Sign.


“De-Sign Bilingual”: bimodal bilingual education in Europe


It is has been way too long since I wrote an entry to this blog! My last entry was in early 2015, a submission to support the BSL Bill in Scotland, which eventually passed, and my latest entry is about developing and documenting Sign Bilingual best practice in schools.

The authors write: “everywhere in Europe the national sign language(s) play a role in schools”.

Verena Krausneker sent me this detail. She worked in collaboration with Claudia Becker, Darina Tarcsiova, Mireille Audeoud; it was a ERASMUS project, partnership with Austria, Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland. The key is this tool which is interactive and enables you to see the status of sign language in schools in 39 countries of Europe: Just click on this link

At the top you can find a drop down link that will view the status of each country: e.g. where sign bilingualism is well established nationally, the percentage of hearing impaired pupils in mainstream schools, where sign language is a school subject, and so on.

An International Sign version of the study can be found in the link under the video, click on IS.

Finally, go here for more information in English:

There’s some intriguing and interesting information. For example, currently in 80% of countries a sign language is available but is restricted mostly to ‘special schools’ and a  few regions. Deaf teachers are obviously a key to developing bimodal bilingual education, but only 25% of the countries “provide necessary initial and continuing teacher training programmes.”

Crucially, it is the negative attitudes – i.e. the view that deafness is a deficit – that is a key barrier to bilingual education being adopted.

Finally, all materials and texts may be used for free and shared and can also be translated into more languages, so if you are interested, contact the project partners in the links I just gave.

The conclusion from the authors:

“Europe is well on its way to firmly establish sign bilingual education in schools. Demands and challenges are the same or very similar everywhere in Europe. Our project as well as good practice examples indicate clearly that international and national networks are especially helpful for the implementation and development of sign bilingual education.”




BSL (Scotland) Bill submission

Submission of Evidence BSL (Scotland) Bill; response by Dr Steven Emery

Introduction – who am I?

I am bilingual in BSL and English, deaf since the age of 4 and my preferred language is BSL. I work as an Assistant Professor at Heriot Watt University, lecturing on the MA (Hons) British Sign Language (Interpreting, Translating and Applied Language Studies) programme. I am from England but live in Edinburgh. I hold a PhD in Citizenship and the Deaf Community – my book remains the only academic publication that has been translated from English to BSL[1].

Opening statement

I fully support Mark Griffin’s BSL (Scotland) Bill. The key reasons are (i) it raises the status of British Sign Language in Scotland; (ii) it commits the Scottish Government to carrying out a National Plan for BSL; and (iii) it distinguishes BSL users as a language minority group.

Following Submission

Many BSL users have given their support to the BSL Bill by citing their experiences of poor education, the lack of use of BSL, and the rights of the deaf child to receive a sign bilingual education. This subject has been well addressed but I would like to add some brief points.

The subject of education is not only about the methods and ways of instruction, but bringing deaf children together to: (i) form a positive BSL identity and culture (something that is only possible when they are brought together, and not left isolated in mainstream schools); (ii) ensure that via their education they become fully formed citizens of society, and, (iii) protect their mental health, for mainstreaming can be detrimental to their self-esteem and wellbeing[2].

  • I include deaf children who have received a cochlear implant: they need to be taught together with other deaf children. There is no harm to a child to learn and be instructed in two languages, BSL and English (be it written only, or spoken/written).
  • I support sign bilingual education; empirical evidence that it enables effective language acquisition is evident from a peer-reviewed research papers written by some of the most esteemed and respected Deaf academics worldwide[3].

I will now address specific questions the Committee has asked. I will emphasise in my submission that:

  1. BSL should be considered not just a language that individuals use but whose users form a collective cultural minority group;
  2. Very careful consideration must be given to the composition of any BSL National Advisory Group to ensure it holds legitimacy and produces an effective plan;
  • Any National Plan must include costs that require the protection and promotion of the culture, and not be limited to public authority provision of BSL: this has become urgent given the possible impact of genetic interventions on the future of the BSL community.

What the Committee would like your views on

  1. In the Policy Memorandum, Mark Griffin MSP says he considered a number of alternative approaches to achieve his intention of promoting BSL, for example, by establishing a voluntary code or adapting existing legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010.  He concluded that introducing the BSL Bill was the best approach.  Do you think we need to change the law to promote the use of BSL and, if so, why?

Yes, it is extremely vital that a law to promote the use of BSL is brought into effect. I hope that Members will consider this very carefully.

British Sign Language is a bona fide language, just as is Gaelic, Welsh, Urdu, or any other minority language. There is a tendency, however, to miss that by being a linguistic minority BSL users are also a cultural minority group. The fact of the culture is one of the best measures for understanding the language hence BSL users, via BSL, create their own folklore, poetry, comedy, theatre, arts, sports, films, and have their own cultural mores that have been less researched but widely accepted in academic circles. BSL users therefore have a vibrant presence in Scotland (and indeed the world) that is regularly expressed through culture but lacks official and public recognition.

Precisely because BSL is a culture as well as a language requires an approach that existing Equality Laws give no space to actively promote. Implementing an Act that endorses the use of BSL should ultimately also promote the culture of BSL users. Those Members who are Gaelic speakers will understand the cultural angle since a language and its culture are inseparable.

  1. Mark Griffin MSP hopes that the obligations under the Bill will, in practice, “lead public authorities to increase the use they make of BSL and the extent to which they are in a position to respond to demand for services in BSL” (Financial Memorandum, paragraph 4).  How realistic do you think this aim is and to what extent do you believe the Bill can achieve this objective?

The Bill will go a long way towards achieving this objective, but must be seen as a starting point, and not an end in itself.

In current legislation, generally, the BSL user is identified as an individual who has ‘special communication needs’ (i.e. they are viewed as disabled and therefore in need of patronage and help).  This depiction is outdated; a more accurate description is that BSL users are a collective minority group whose language is not only one that the vast majority do not use, but their minority culture is also not recognised or understood. For over a century in social policy BSL users have been considered as individuals with needs (or ‘service users’): this perception cannot be changed over the course of a few years. Therefore the Bill is an excellent beginning, as it enables BSL users to challenge and change public authorities’, and society’s, perceptions of BSL users, because the Bill will oblige authorities to make use of BSL and in the process make it more visible in the public domain.

  1. The Bill is solely about the use of BSL.  Could there be unintended consequences for other languages or forms of communication used by the deaf community?

There are deaf people who prefer to use a signed form of English. It would be a mistake to consider that the provision of BSL will have an unintended consequence on those who, for example, use an English-based sign system known as Sign Supported English. ‘British Sign Language’ has a ‘spectrum’ of users: for example, older BSL users may use fingerspelling and older forms of sign vocabulary, younger BSL users may use more English when they sign, or BSL users who went to a Deaf school may use fluent BSL. The use of ‘BSL’ covers a wide range of BSL users, of all ages, with varying levels and command of sign language, and includes those who use Sign Supported English. BSL/English Interpreters, for example, are trained to cater for the wide range of sign languages users across the UK.

Duties on the Scottish Ministers

  1. In preparing its Authority Plan, a public authority must consult with those who are “likely to be directly affected by the Authority Plan or otherwise to have an interest in that Plan” (Section 3(6)) and must take into account any comments made to it during the consultation (Section 3(5)).  What effect do you think these requirements will have on you or your organisation?

Public authorities are often faced with a range of organisations with different perspectives on issues relating to BSL. It concerns me that many organisations invited to be involved in an Advisory Group will in fact be organisations for deaf people, rather than led by or representative of BSL users.

Given that the government is recommending the setting up of a BSL National Advisory Group, the make-up of such a Group is going to be of critical importance. I have undertaken a post-doctoral research project (2008-2010) that asked research participants to imagine a scenario where a public body was set up to devise a national plan for the revival and regeneration of BSL users and their culture.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the importance that the government casts its net wider than ‘D/deaf organisations’ or already existing consultancy groups when considering the make-up of a BSL National Advisory Group. Firstly, it should be a majority of BSL users; secondly, only organisations/groups that genuinely represent BSL users should be considered; and thirdly, well-known and respected individual BSL users who have no organisational affiliation but extensive experience of working with services, the BSL community, and personal experience, should also be included[4].

The BSL Scottish Bill Facebook group is a timely reminder that BSL users make up a wide range of people with a wealth of experience and a great deal of respect within the community. These people may not always be visible to public authorities, nor represented in any organisation, but they are well-respected individuals. They will offer valuable experience and give the Advisory Group legitimacy.  The Advisory Group must also consider minorities within the minority: BSL Users from the Black Minority Ethnic Community, young BSL users, for example, and it is imperative that organisations of these minorities are the ones that are at the forefront of the consultation and engagement process.

Financial implications

 Wider Issues

  1. Do you believe that the FM reasonably captures all costs associated with the Bill? If not, which other costs might be incurred and by whom?

The monies required to implement the National Plan in the BSL (Scotland) Bill would be far beyond any amount that has ever been given to a BSL Act from the public purse and is therefore pioneering in the UK. However, considering that I believe the National Plan should detail what is required to protect and promote BSL in a way similar to Gaelic, additional future costs are inevitable. For example, provisions to roll out sign bilingual education policies, provide a Scottish BSL television/internet channel, establish a cultural heritage centre to ensure the promotion and protection of the culture; initiatives along these lines would need to be accounted for in future plans.

The culture needs to be protected in a way the Equality Act 2010 does not ensure. The minority is at risk from genetic interventions, since cures for ‘deafness’ ultimately lead to a reduction, if not total elimination, of BSL users as a group. Gene therapy experiments on ‘deafness’ are already underway in the United States (at the University of Kansas Medical Centre).

These interventions add more importance to the implementation of the Bill, for a rich linguistic cultural heritage risks being lost unless there are plans to protect and promote it.

Crucially, how that protection and promotion can be ensured can be achieved by ensuring BSL users are at the heart of a BSL National Advisory Group.


Steven Emery, 2 February 2015.


[1] Emery, S.D. 2011. Citizenship and the Deaf Community, Ishara Press, Holland.

[2] Research in the late 1980’s found that 61% of deaf children educated in mainstream schools were found to experience mental health distress: Ref:  Hindley, P. A., Hill, P. D., McGuigan, S. and Kitson, N. 1994. Psychiatric Disorder in Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children and Young People: A Prevalence Study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35: 917–934. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1994.tb02302.x

[3] See, for example: Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J., Padden, C. & Rathmann, C. 2014. Ensuring language acquisition for deaf children: What linguists can do. Language 90(2), e31-e52. Linguistic Society of America. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from Project MUSE database.

[4] I am not suggesting the Group excludes non-BSL users! Obviously government representatives and other non-signing experts (e.g. people with expertise in spoken language cultural minority group issues) may need to be involved. I am stressing the point of genuine and majority BSL representation and involvement because all too often BSL users are under-represented in (or totally excluded from) initiatives that affect them, and their exclusion is one of the most unnecessary injustices, repeated time and again throughout history.

Event: ‘Bridging the gap: Are Deaf and hearing collaborations in academia really working?

Following my previous entry, Nicola Nunn and the University of Central Lancashire will be hosting an event to discuss the points from the two Qualitative Inquiry articles.

I’m hoping for a good turn out and a lively, open debate!



‘Bridging the gap: Are Deaf and hearing collaborations in academia really working?


When?     Saturday 29th March

Time?    11am to 5pm

Where?   Greenbank Lecture Theatre, UCLan, Victoria Street, Preston, PR1 7QT.

The seminar is free but you will need to pay £5.00 for the supplied buffet lunch. You can pay on the day but please email to book a place beforehand.

This is an opportunity for Deaf and hearing BSL users, academics and non-academics, to join a formal debate around current relevant issues. Non-BSL users are also welcome to attend (interpreters are provided).

Join us afterwards to continue our discussions at:

The Guild Pub, 99 Fylde Road, Preston PR1 2XQ



Discussion points: at the intersection

Our article was intended to provoke debate, so thanks to everyone who has contributed so far.

Putting aside access issues for the time being, I really feel the need to bring discussion to the article. Mainly also because some of the contributions are going into areas which I feel are not quite ‘getting it’, as Alison put it. It was also something that cropped up in the lifeinlincs debate a few months back, so I am going to take this opportunity to clarify, as briefly as I can, what we are trying to get at.

I’m also sure people will recognise that the issues we address in the article are as relevant to other fiends of work too.

First, our article isn’t intended as a contribution to the practicalities about how Deaf and hearing academics can work together, although there is a strong overlap. Nicola Nunn is currently doing her work in this field and will have far more to contribute than we do. Do please keep an eye for the presentations and work she’s doing in this field.

Second, as has become apparent, it’s a *reaction* piece. As Alison, Sarah, and others have pointed out, reading the original gives our article its crucial context. It reacts to an article by two authors.

Thirdly, while we do elaborate on how and why hearing academics are able to advance their careers in relation to Deaf academics, our key concern is the fact that this situation risks remaining unchanged in spite of a growing number of Deaf academics. [It greatly concerns us when some have written that they didn’t feel as supported as they could have been. I also know several had to withdraw academic studies through lack of support.]

To us, the original article can best be visualised as follows. Imagine a newly born dog, yapping and yelping and learning to live its life: the article was the equivalent of kicking the poor mite cos it is constantly barking at them. Of course, the authors in no way intended that, but that’s how it came across when we read it (the barking dog in question? ‘Deaf academic power’). Where do hearing academics stand in this new power development, they stated? We think there are problems with the questions, but you really have to read their article to form an opinion, I will not be doing those authors any justice by trying to sum it up here.

Two things: one we do recognise there is a growing Deaf academic elite in the UK, but, like we say, it’s a yapping little dog right now. Nevertheless, we do have to think about how that might develop into a confident, assertive, self-reflective, transparent, forward-thinking, truly diverse, intersectional breed. We want to encourage Deaf academics to think about their relationship to academia and the community: these academics (yes, Dai and I included) get prestige and advantages from our positions and publications [more on that later].

Secondly, without in any way meaning to discredit or alienate people who are working hard in unity with Deaf and hearing academics, it’s painfully hard to ignore the fact that this discussion is taking place against a background where privileged hearing academics are able to gain prestige, experience and status through hard-to-fund research projects. When we see yet another project that either excludes Deaf academics, or sees them situated in a lesser status in relation to it, we feel it.

A more appropriate question is: what tools can be created to enable Deaf academics to lead Deaf-related research projects, departments, and funding? The balance of hearing-Deaf academic power is hopelessly outweighed in favour of the former; nobody will deny that, but the question is: are you willing to find ways of relinquishing power to enable us all to redress that imbalance?

Now, of course, we have been very careful to qualify that when we say ‘Deaf Power’ we don’t mean some oppressive ruling structure that simply replicates the one that already exists, to replace one with another. We also certainly don’t mean it excludes hearing people as we have been at pains to say. And Deaf academics have a huge responsibility too, because looking around at us, the majority are white, middle-class, and our research is barely accessible to those who are not English literate; men outnumber women, and there is a glaring lack of black women and men, disabled deaf people, and many others.

Crucially, also, what is the nature of most of the research, another question altogether, but an important one.

These brief but key points are the thrust of our article. Within these thrusts we can find space to address ‘on the ground’ issues such as hearing/deaf relationships in academia. Owning up to privilege is key for us all: not to push people into some guilt trip, but to seek ways in which we can all drive research into the direction which recognises and encourages Deaf community self-determination, at the intersection.

Our newly published article out now: Deaf academics and academia

The long awaited article written by Dai O’Brien and I is now available online, in the latest issue of Qualitative Inquiry.

It feels poignant to read it now, the first draft was written towards the end of 2011, two years ago. At that time, the Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol was under threat, and it has now actually been closed. Poignant because it was a response to an article written in the same publication, which wrote of the growing Deaf academic power, and how hearing people might work to negotiate their place within this new power. The quote: ‘be careful what you wish for’ was never more relevant. Gone are the ‘powerful’ Deaf academics that the article were concerned about; nine deaf jobs lost, an equal number of hearing jobs also gone, one of the most effective interpreting services dismantled, 35 years of research and academic work knifed to death.

That’s what I call power!

We have great respect for the authors of that article, but it was, bluntly, difficult to read. The authors contacted (highly regarded and very well respected) non-Academic Deaf people, whereby the hearing research leaders were the project leaders, and Deaf laypeople were participants. We make no excuse for flagging up Deaf/hearing divides: we aren’t the ones who started that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with involving non-academic Deaf people, for those Deaf people have far more expertise in the subject area (poetry) than we can ever hope to hold. They were ideal people to contact for that article.

But what was very saddening and disappointing was the fact that the article took a horribly vicious swipe at Deaf academics, and yet did not bother to consult with those they were attacking in the first place. That, in our mind, was an imposition of academic privilege.

Certainly, there are some very privileged Deaf people working in academia, and we are two such people (although I am unemployed). It’s always critically vital that we look at ourselves and check what we do, how we act and behave, and work hard to ensure we do not overstep our privileges. There is no question at all that we will never get it always right, and being white men, English literate, we have the responsibility to be transparent and communicative.

To that extent we have written what we hope will be a balanced response, particularly critical of the postmodern perspective the authors champion, with an invitation to open dialogue on these matters involving other academics, particularly those who are undertaking research in this subject, e.g. Nicola Nunn at the University of Central Lancashire.

The starting point is the nature of academia itself. Deaf academics are as guilty of failing to address the nature of the beast they work within; there is an unwritten, unexposed assumption that we do so to improve and increase knowledge about the communities within which we work. There’s lots of talk about ‘working together’, but we do so in a highly politicalised environment. Individuals continue to work independently because that’s how they are systemically expected to. There is no political will to work together in practice, because it is far easier to work within the constraints of the system,and to splinter ourselves within our ‘discipline’.  Win research funding and conduct research first, through the networks you know; the involvement of the community comes next.

I hope our article lays down some challenges and markers. We are academics, whatever our audiological and cultural status. We have enormous power. And the doors are far more closed for some than others.


Culture and Active Citizenship

It was great to see Lillian Lawson and Brenda Hamlin give strong and meaningful presentations related to citizenship at the BDA conference last weekend.

Nope, I didn’t get to fly in to Derby from Barranquilla, nor watch it streamed live – I couldn’t manage a 4am wake up, so watched them later on and got bits of the AGM.

Active citizenship is the bedrock of civil society: a passive citizenship is indicative of an apathetic nation and enables governments to get away with social injustices. As Lillian showed, active citizenship can relate to a very broad range of activities.

My thoughts were on other matters.

A regular question was the lack of young people involved. I think only 4 or 5 of the 40 people were under 25. I’m sure I’m not the only person to be tired of facing this question: for something like 30 years it’s been an issue.

This makes little sense politically given the huge success of the FDP at getting young people involved in politics, and the impact of the Spit the Dummy group: there is no lack of politically minded young Deaf people, neither is the community in decline (as BDA figures showed). It’s just that they don’t see the BDA as the place to be politically, and find pubs and social networking more appealing than a trip to the local Deaf Centre.

I have the utmost respect for those like Brenda who are working tirelessly to address these issues. I was involved with Bristol Deaf Centre for a short while, where we faced terrible problems due to government cuts and previous Centre mismanagement – it was a thankless task trying to sort out the problems.

On Sunday, however I was left asking the painful question: is the BDA the future of the Deaf community? Should it try and pave the way for a newer (non-charitable?) group or organisation, maintaining links with EUD/WFD? Is it worth shutting down and starting all over from scratch under a different, modern, up to date guise?

I somehow doubt that will happen, but whatever the possible solutions, there was one word/sign on my mind: culture. I don’t think it was once mentioned, which, given how important it is to the language and community, is surprising and worrying. Do people take it for granted nowadays? ‘Yeah we got a culture we know that blah blah’, or not think it’s the most pressing issue?

If there is one question I would have liked to ask it would have been whether there are any serious attempts to develop discussions of Deaf culture throughout the UK, with young deaf people today? Is the notion of ‘identity’ more prominent? It’s more surprising culture isn’t addressed given the Deafhood notion was born in the UK.

I have to admit that I have not paid this issue much attention in my work on citizenship, and it is only through privileged visits abroad, and my move to Colombia, that it has really hit me hard how important cultural workshops and discussions are. That could be a bridge to younger people becoming more political active: this should not be a strategy but a natural process.

When I am privileged to be part of these experiences, and I tune in to watch a national Deaf conference with so few people (young or mature) present, with little discussion on Deaf culture; I can’t help but feel that lack of in-depth, meaningful, cultural exploration is one of the most important missing links in the demise of active citizenship in the UK.