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

Update: education, diaspora, genetics and group rights

An incredibly hectic period! It’s always busy, but these last three months have been a workload tsunami to beat all workload tsunamis!

Here’s an update.

Struggling with swine flu back in August, I wrote up an ‘Expression of Interest’ for a Centre for Deaf Studies project to evaluate the work being undertaken by the I-Sign Consortium. The consortium received £800,000 from the Department of Children, Schools and Families to undertake a pilot project into increasing BSL in education and within families. We are evaluating that project. Just beat the deadline by 4 minutes. CDS will soon begin the process of evaluation, using Theory of Change and Distance Travelled methods.

It promises to be a challenge, and we wait with interest to see how the project itself progresses in the next 15-18 months.

Secondly, I’ve been working with colleagues to look at the possibility of undertaking research on the concept of Sign Language Peoples Diaspora.  A lot of ground covered, but hope to have something published soon on our thinking around the concept of Diaspora. It’s totally early days for that.

Finally, the group rights research is slowly progressing. This coming Saturday I fly out to India to the SIGN4 Conference, where I am giving a paper on group rights. It’s entitled ‘Putting the World to Rights: Group Rights and Deaf Communities’.

In addition to having been internal assessor of a PhD for the second time, chaired and hosted a UK Deaf Academics meeting at Bristol, and undertaken some teaching on ‘Learning Skills’ on the MSc Deafhood course and other typical university-type work stuff.

Research I was involved with around genetics: Anna Middleton has published the work we did, including a DVD from the workshop in Cardiff last year.  There are two published articles in ‘Sign Language Studies’ forthcoming, all joint-authored, one of which includes a summary of media reporting of the movement opposing the HFE Bill. That is in the next issue of SLS.

No rest for the wicked!

Enjoy the festive break.

A Roadmap to British Sign Language & Linguistic Access in Scotland

I have just seen this document, a report on linguistic access in Scotland.

Amongst the interesting statistics are:

– that just 18% of D/deaf people have access to the internet, compared with 53% of the general population;

– there are just 65 qualified BSL/English interpreters, compared with an estimated 200 to 300 Communication Support Workers (though this figure seems to be in need of clarification and verification); and

– of the 1,026 people taking assessments for BSL in 2006, only 11 were at level 3, and none at level 4.

It cites a report that an estimated 1,000 more interpreters are needed to be registered in the UK to bring the country in line with the European median of one interpreter per 45,000 people, itself quite a low expectation.

My own contribution to the report, notes detailing briefly my research on citizenship can be found here.

BSL DVD of PhD ‘Citizenship and the Deaf Community’ finally ready

Blimey the time has really flown! Shocked, it was January 2008 the DVD’s were completed (was it really that long ago I set up the blog??), but after many delays, particularly checking the covers (my name was spelt ‘Seven’ on the originals ahem!), and the English headings within the DVD’s, they are now in my hands.

Now, this will be interesting.  I’m assuming it would be difficult to get it published in the form it is at present; written PhD’s are copyrighted, so only the British Library and the University where it was passed will be able to have copies (and one for me, of course). Hmmm, how will these two institutions keep the 19 DVD blockbuster, I wonder?

One company that produces DVD’s has already suggested looking at the possibility of marketing it, so the next step is to make enquiries. Otherwise, hopefully, I will be able to get clips of it up on a website. Actually, putting up clips is the plan anyway, regardless. I bought the domain name ‘deafcitizenship’ some time ago for that purpose, so as to make the site truly bilingual from inception so maybe there.

Hope to have fun soon!