cutting services

Is the end in sight for the Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol?

It would be very sad if the Centre is closed, as indicated by the blog: Save Deaf Studies.

But I see they are not giving up without a fight.

So I’ve done my bit by composing and sending the following letter to the Vice Chancellor.


Dear Professor Eric Thomas


It was with great shock and disappointment, not to mention anger, that I read the University of Bristol is planning to close the Centre for Deaf Studies. If this decision is made, it will be a great tragedy given the excellent work of the highest quality that has emerged from the University over the past 35 years. That work has been of immense benefit not only for Deaf people, the Deaf community, and the careers of past and current staff, but the University of Bristol too.


It is with some shock that I read the University originally offered the Centre a subsidy of £100,000, but which has since been withdrawn.


It is hard to believe this decision in imminent, and I would urge you to bear in mind the current situation of Deaf studies internationally:

  1.  The Deaf community internationally is emerging as a bona-fide cultural, linguistic minority group (thanks in part to research undertaken by Scholars at the University of Bristol) at such an important historical juncture.
  2. The Deaf community, through the ‘Spit the Dummy’ campaign, is pressurizing the UK government to put in place a ‘British Sign Language Act’, which would considerably increase the demand for Sign Language Interpreters, and other vocations working with Deaf people.
  3. There are a growing number of Deaf and hearing academics who have obtained their doctorates in social science related subjects over the past two years.


These developments point to a future for research on Deafhood, Deaf Studies, and Sign Language interpreting.  These are historically significant times. In this context, it is difficult to believe the University is busy driving in the opposite direction. It makes no rational sense.


I write as someone who worked at the Centre for four years, from 2008-2012, as a Research Associate. I remain a Honorary Member of the University of Bristol, and so maintain ties with the institution.


The University has also been invaluable for my career as a Deaf academic. The research I undertook at the Centre has enabled me to build on work that I had begun with the publication of my PhD and research on genetics. It ultimately played a part in me being offered a Visiting Professorship at the world renown Gallaudet University, Washington DC, which I took up in January 2013, having been made redundant from CDS in December 2012.


I have read your statement explaining the reasons for discontinuing CDS. I was a staff member until December 2012, and the statement is at odds with my experience at the time. I did not feel the University was as supportive of the Centre as it could have been. For example, following the disbanding of SACHS, there were promises to re-house CDS within the University, but this did not happen.  There was a long delay in appointing a project manager who could have supported CDS and helped to find a suitable place for the Centre in the long term.


I’m also aware some staff were offered, and accepted, voluntary severance pay; but it is not the case that all staff were eligible, and the University is therefore effectively sacking staff who have served the University with such passion and energy over the years. In any case, this is no excuse for dismantling such a valuable Centre.


I appeal to you to rethink your plans to close CDS. Please commit to your original promise not to close the Centre and to offer a subsidy.  That would enable the Centre to focus on developing a top quality institution of research into sign language and Deaf culture, and sign language Interpreting.


It is not too late to put research into the rights of Deaf people ahead of the economics of the current ‘austerity’ climate. In the long term the University will be a great beneficiary.


Don’t throw away a Centre that is so revered across the world. It should be possible to work out a solution with political will and commitment. If the University is prepared to give the Centre a long term plan, there is no doubt it can continue to be a pioneering Centre for Deaf studies related research.


Yours sincerely,



Dr Steven Emery

Honorary Staff Member, University of Bristol




Ten years on: from BSL recognition to ‘Spit the Dummy’

So, here we are. Ten years ago to the day, the UK government ‘recognises’ BSL. Six years after the Federation of Deaf People (FDP) was set up, which kick-started a political campaign to fight for recognition, here came the announcement.  £1m was thrown in to support the statement (later increased to £1.5m); it was allocated to several different organisations.

A ‘timeline’ to recognition has been put up on the Grumpy Old Deafies website, and today saw the launch of the very welcome ‘Deaf Heritage’ website.* The later, in particular, is especially important, as it shows the level of activism, and the vital role of the FDP in achieving recognition.

Ten years on we have the ‘spit the dummy’ campaign, re-starting up what was not achieved: a ‘BSL Act’. This made me think that if I was to make a film about Deaf activism in the UK, in ten years time, I would probably detail how the statement came about, and then flash up on the screen the words ‘Ten years later’. Indicating that in between that time, we’ve been walking along the bottom of a valley, occasionally pausing to admire the views above us. [These last years have consisted largely of defensive campaigns, e.g. to stop various cuts (e.g. Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol; Deaf schools), stop withdrawal of DLA, stop legislating to deny reproductive liberty to Deaf couples, etc.]

So, was this campaign to get the government to recognise BSL a success? I enter Vicky Pollard mode: ‘yeah but, no but, yeah but, no but,’ etc.  If we measure success by the statement, it would appear minimal.  All those video’s being posted up on the spit the dummy Facebook page demonstrate there remains a severe lack of access to services, and negative attitudes towards Deaf people remain. My PhD research, Citizenship and the Deaf community, which I started just six months before the statement was announced, also highlighted how Deaf people’s citizenship is ‘thin’ – i.e. in all areas of civil, political and social citizenship, their status could best be described as second class. The evidence is there, underwritten by two factors in particular: the refusal to allow Deaf people to participate in jury service, and the failure to adjust teacher training courses so that Deaf people can become fully qualified teachers of deaf children.

And, of course, recognition was not enshrined in law: many of us urged ‘carry on campaigning’. Many of us did continue, or try to.

But there is definitely cause for cracking open the champagne today. Celebrating the statement is mainly a celebration of the political activism that led to it. I recall the time prior to the setting up of the FDP: political apathy was said to be high: ‘nobody is interested in politics’. As if to confirm it, the 2001 election in the UK passed by virtually unnoticed, with turnout at an 80 year low. Yet here were Deaf people and their allies, up and down the country, enthusiastically participating in marches (national and local), direct action, and lobbying MP’s and councillors to get BSL recognised.

The ‘Spit The Dummy’ campaign is very welcome. It is too early to be analysing and assessing it.  The organisers need all the support they can get, especially as it has started out as a genuinely grassroots campaign. It is curious it is happening at a time when government cuts are beginning to be felt.  One of the main obstacles towards achieving an Act is not only ideological; it would require money in the same way Welsh or Scots Gaelic does. It will be interesting to see how these  issues are addressed.  Inequality may have been present before the cuts took place, but with no end in sight it appears as if Deaf people in the UK have had enough of second class citizenship.

*Found via Facebook, thanks to postings by Jen Dodds and Ian Glover, and also Grumpy Old Deafies

Bristol Centre for Deaf People meeting: high passions

I attended an eventful (open public) meeting at Bristol Centre for Deaf People (BCDP) on Friday night. Am not going to do a ‘report’, impossible, cos so much happened, but this is my brief ‘tweets’ timeline as a way of summary:

Emergency General Meeting was called to discuss cuts in services by Bristol City Council to Bristol Deaf People, and was held Friday 23rd September, 6-9pm.

6.05pm: Meeting opens: Chair outlines Council cuts and the effect they will have on Bristol Deaf Centre and services

6.20pm: Deaf members request BSL translation of statement from Bristol City Council’s Health and Social Care dept before discussion continues

6.35pm: Statement suggests a key reason for cutting services is due to BCDP poor management, that Board denies

6.50pm: Ideas for future of Centre put forward by the BCDP CEO, rejected as ‘far too late’

7.00pm: Heated, passionate debate fires off between members from floor and Board, tensions running high

7.10pm: Centre of anger is on Board management’s failure in last few years to act to secure future of BCDP

7.15pm: Several members from the floor critical of the Board’s management, ‘they had been left with a mess but failed to clean it up’

7.20pm: Board have totally lost the meeting but continue to strongly defend their actions, strenuously denying any wrongdoing

7.30pm: Debate continues to be highly charged, personal attacks, inappropriate public naming of people, pleas for calm

7.35pm: Board starts to try to end the meeting

7.40pm: Floor wants to keep meeting going, bitter dissatisfaction expressed towards Board’s behaviour

7.45pm: Board Chair formally closes the meeting and entire Board walks off the stage!

7.50pm: Deaf members urge a break in proceedings for passions to calm

8.15pm: Informal meeting (of majority of those present but minus the Board) reconvenes to discuss the situation

8.30pm: Meeting discusses its options within the constitution and draws up a list of issues to be discussed at a future Emergency meeting

9.00pm: Meeting closes.

One thing is for sure: the meeting ain’t the end of the matter, and further developments can be expected in coming days and weeks ahead.