University of Edinburgh

Newsletter 20 Autumn 2005


Welcome back to another Academic year. We have been exceptionally busy over the summer. Those of you who have visited us will know that we share a space with the CALL Centre. Until now the space had been divided up so that SSC staff were scattered from one end of the room to the other. We decided it would be much better if we were all located together and so we looked at rearranging the space a little.

All SSC staff are now to be found at the front of the room, nearest the automatic doors. The Library has also switched around so that the SSC books are the first ones you come to; the Library update contains more information about this change. We have removed some of the room dividers, so that the space flows more freely.

In this newsletter we cover staff changes at the SSC, our courses and projects and information about the Website.

Mary receiving her BDA medal in 2004

Mary receiving her BDA medal in 2004

Finally we wanted to bid our own farewell to our colleague and friend, Mary Brennan, who died in June. We have decided to share some of our personal memories of working with her. The photo above shows Mary receiving her BDA medal of Honour from Winnie Ewing last year.

Sheila Mackenzie,
Newsletter Editor


Mary Dowell

This year we welcome Mary Dowell from St Vincent's School for the Deaf, Glasgow to the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) team to contribute to our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme. Mary is a Teacher of the Deaf and we will certainly appreciate the input and experience of someone who is still spending time in school working directly with pupils.

"I have been a teacher of English for 28 years at secondary and university levels in Scotland, Belgium and Canada. For the last five years I have worked as a specialist teacher at St Vincent's School for the Deaf in Glasgow. Since joining St Vincent's I have continued my professional development through postgraduate courses in deaf education at the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde; I am now working on my MSc Masters thesis.

My personal interests include my family (my husband and two teenage sons), travelling, keeping fit, theatre, cinema, reading and other selfishly hedonistic pleasures which I will not share here!

I am working with the SSC for one day a week and, though I may not be in the Centre every week, if you would like to get in touch with me regarding CPD courses, I would be pleased to hear from you."

Mary Dowell,
Teacher of the Deaf,

back to index

New Coordinator

John Ravenscroft

John Ravenscroft

May 2005 saw another change at the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC). Ernst Thoutenhoofd decided to return to continue his research interests and as a result I took over as Coordinator of the SSC. As many of you know, I am also the manager of Visual Impairment Scotland - a position which I shall maintain. This is ideal as both are located within the SSC.

Although I am currently publishing work in visual impairment I started out my academic career working at the University of London, researching on how young deaf children learn to read. This led to several other research projects involving deaf children and their parents. So, as you can imagine, I am delighted to be the Coordinator of a Centre that has as its main focus the education of children who are deaf, children who are visually impaired and children who are deafblind. As a result I aim to continue the Centre's strong ethos in supporting new developments and effective practices in the education of these children.

As Coordinator I can attend any and all of this year's Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, which I have to say is a great opportunity and one that I am keen to take advantage of. I think our CPD team this year deserve a special note of thanks for they have worked extremely hard in the past few months to deliver a great set of courses and I hope to see many of you there.

I think part of their success, and the future success of the SSC is through collaboration. I know that collaboration is sometimes a word often said and, in some cases, rarely happens, but it appears to me that already the fruit of collaborative working with other organisations, local education authorities and health professionals has seen a dramatic change in the Centre. I hope to foster and develop this positive change. If you are reading this and are wondering if the SSC could meet your CPD needs or you want us to help with a project, research or otherwise, then why don't you give me a call or drop me an e-mail.

The SSC has at its core a dedicated team of professionals who are constantly working to deliver the best CPD training possible. This, coupled with the leading edge research that the Centre produces, makes it one of the most exciting places I have worked and I feel very proud to now be the Co-ordinator. This will be a very exciting year.

John Ravenscroft,
Coordinator, SSC,
Telephone: 0131 651 6071,

back to index

News: Electronic Notetaking Course

Jenny Webster

We are pleased to report that the SSC recently ran its first course for electronic notetakers funded by the University of Edinburgh's Disability Office. As this was a pilot we are currently evaluating the possibility of adding this course to our regular programme. The week-long intensive course offered training to 10 candidates who had been assessed for relevant basic skills earlier in the year.

Jenny Webster devised and delivered the course and we will be keen to make use of her skills in the future. Jenny is currently working as a freelance electronic notetaker in the North of England as well as tutoring and passing on her expertise through training courses such as ours.

back to index

British Sign Language Glossary Project

BSL glossary still

The Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) is developing a pilot British Sign Language (BSL) glossary of Maths terms as an online resource, to be tested by users: Maths pupils and Maths teachers. We are currently writing a questionnaire for a selected group of users in schools, who will be asked to check out the resource and to feed back their comments and views. The SSC wants to consult at this early point so that further development of this project, including any further application for funding, is fully informed by users' views on the quality, organisation, and overall value of the glossary for teaching, learning and assessment in bilingual settings. By the end of 2005, the pilot will be publicly accessible through the SSC website, accompanied by a summary of the evaluation. Through this pilot the SSC will assess the scope for expanding this support for sign-bilingual education into a comprehensive national collection of BSL glossaries spanning all 14 SQA subjects.

BSL glossary still

Background to the project

In March 2005, SSC acquired a collection of 150 movies, recorded in BSL by a deaf Maths teacher, Gerry Hughes (St Vincent's) in collaboration with Mary Brennan (University of Edinburgh) and Margaret Ward (Consultant, Learning to Learn, Canada). Together the BSL movies represent the first 40-50 items on LT Scotland's "list of Maths terms for SQA exams", which until now has been available in English only. In fact the movies form a dictionary-type application. Not only does each entry in this dictionary provide a BSL sign for a Maths term, but more importantly each entry contains movies that explain its meaning and appropriate usage, all within the context of a truly bilingual understanding of mathematical concepts. Therefore English translations accompany the movies, and they enable the glossary's organisation and searches. The pilot glossary of Maths terms contains terms from the Maths list across Foundation, General and Credit levels.

BSL glossary still

The pilot is based on consultative meetings held with Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD), the Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA), Learning and Teaching (LT) Scotland, and teachers involved in sign-bilingual provision for deaf pupils in Scotland.

If you are a Maths teacher and would like to be involved in testing the resource, then please send an e-mail to Elizabeth Izatt
at SSC with your contact details. Put "Glossary Evaluation" in the message header.

back to index

Braille Competency Distance Learning Course

The SSC Braille Course continues to go from strength to strength, this year's course being full by April and a waiting list already started.

In order to comply with the new rules brought out by BAUK, October 2004 (see details below re ordering), the course has been updated and some changes have been made to the format and course fees. The course is now presented in 12 Stages instead of 11 and contains both flat and raised braille reading exercises. Each stage will now be assessed by a braille writing assessment and a reading comprehension exercise. Stage 12 will be assessed by a mock final paper which will follow the same format as the Final Assessment. In order to accommodate these changes the timescale for the course will now be 18 months with a maximum extension, at the discretion of the Tutor, to two years. Those not completed within this time will need to apply again at the full cost.

Due to the high demand for the course, and in order to accommodate the changes, the manner of accepting students and the time factor for the course will change for the 2006-07 course.
The main intake of students will continue to be April with a maximum intake of 20 students, but those applying as part of PG Diploma will be accepted onto the course at any point throughout the year for which there will be up to a maximum of 10 places available. Once all the places are allocated, applicants will be placed on a waiting list for the following April.
The timescale for the course will now be 18 months with a maximum extension, at the discretion of the Tutor, to two years. Those not completed within this time will need to apply again at the full cost.

The course fees for 2006-07 will be as follows:
£200 Full rate for UK applicants
£100 Concession rate for parents of VI children
£250 Applicants from countries outwith the UK
£50 Fee for those wishing to sit the Final Assessment only

Course application forms for April 2006-07 will be available in October 2005.

Please note for all those interested: RNIB now have the long awaited new Braille Primer in stock - yippee! but don't get too excited. Capitals are not used throughout, only in certain exercises, so it's not the answer to all our problems!
Braille Primer TC20204 - £9.80
British Braille (2004 edition) TC20242 - £7.25
To order from RNIB Customer Services: Telephone: 0845 702 3153,

Morag Heeps,
Course Tutor,

back to index

Memories of Mary Brennan

Mary Brennan

Mary Brennan

Mary Brennan our colleague, Specialist in Deaf Education at the SSC for the past seven years, sadly died on 23rd June 2005. Members of the SSC staff and friends have contributed their thoughts and remembrances of Mary as an informal tribute from the SSC to her life and work.

"Hadaway!" I said to Mary, "Whey aye" she replied adding "Forbe, Aa divvent knaa his nyem an all, but I knaa he was canny like" "Aye, canny" was my response. "Aye he was from Gyetsid in all" she said.

Mary and I often talked about people or places around Newcastle or Gateshead (Gyetsid) that we knew. I am from the north of the river and Mary was from the South. "Southerner" I used to call her, as she had a house just across the water from mine. She was not only gifted in her BSL work but, unknown to most, she was a gifted Geordie speaker as well. At every meeting we had we used to exchange a couple of sentences which must have made others think we had just arrived from Mars. A brilliant start to all the meetings we had. Fantastic!

Mary was great - she really made me feel at home and supported me in all of my efforts at work and even though she was a remarkable busy woman she always made time for a coffee and a chat about life and the "footy". These times I really miss. So Mary, Gan canny hinney!
John Ravenscroft

Mary in action

I came to know Mary Brennan when I was a student at Moray House and immediately felt that she was the kind of person I would like for a friend. Sadly, I didn't really get to know Mary other than professionally but my impression of her was one of a person possessed of absolute moral and intellectual integrity. I really enjoyed Mary's 'stream of consciousness' style of teaching; I empathised with the way her mind drifted off at tangents and felt the topic was always enriched by this endearing habit. Mary was a highly creative thinker, absolutely committed to deaf education and her Geordie accent and self-deprecating sense of humour made her courses very enjoyable. As a teacher I was in awe of how thorough Mary was in marking assignments; she valued every effort her students made to analyse and question the status quo in deaf education. Mary made a profound impact on me as an educator; I, with many others, will miss her and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to know her.
Mary Dowell

Shortly after leaving Edinburgh Art College, I attended an interview with the BSL Research Project and was fortunate in being appointed as one of the graphic artists to the project. Thus Mary became my first 'boss' and she was the yardstick by which I measured all subsequent employers - obviously they all fell short of Mary's mark. Mary treated us all with respect and always encouraged and thanked us for our efforts. Perhaps not so appreciated was the tendency we had of depicting Mary and Martin Colville, in cartoon form - I seem to recall a Superman and Captain Scarlet comic page (I leave you to guess who was who!) but, (un)fortunately, no copies exist though Mary's tendency of focussing about an inch above the hairline was a prominent feature! The Project eventually came to an end but Mary continued to be a friend and a mentor; always interested in how my career was progressing, and could I fit in some graphic work for her! I went to a few 'shindigs' at SSC and always enjoyed a good blether with Mary on almost any subject. I have a great deal to thank Mary for (and never did) and will miss her enormously.

Martin by himselfMartin Connell

Mary was a lovely colleague; I appreciated her wonderful sense of humour and the always interesting digressions in conversation. She was invaluable help when it came to developing the SSC Library as well as being an inveterate borrower! It was a shame that so many of the times I saw her was in a rushed visit to the Library where we would raid the shelves for texts she needed that moment for a course or meeting. There were, of course, some less frantic moments characterised by her Newsletter article "Gold-digging in the SSC Library" from 1999 were she took such joy in the more historical items in the collection. I think that we both wished she had more opportunities to indulge herself and spend more time in that way.

She will be greatly missed here, as attested by the many tributes from library members who have expressed their sympathy to me.
Sheila Mackenzie

It was with great joy and anticipation that we, in SSC, greeted the appointment of Mary as Lecturer, later Reader, in Deaf Education at Moray House. We knew of the wonderful work she had done with and for deaf people through her British Sign Language research project. Ruth Simpson had been part of that project and Helen Mitchell, her predecessor at SSC, had kept us up-to-date with the Deaf Studies work being done at Durham University.

Mary was a pleasure to be with whether for professional reasons, or socially. However, we soon found out that she was so much in demand that it was never easy to pin her down, or at least, not for long! Some of the most enjoyable time I spent with Mary was in buses and trains, going to and from meetings, where planning and discussion was interspersed with hilarious anecdotes in inimitable Geordie style. To ensure time with Mary, she had to be enticed away from work.

When I retired, a great opportunity presented itself. A celebratory weekend was organised in Bath - far away from Edinburgh, phones and e-mail! Gwynedd Lloyd, Alison Closs, and myself, and yes, Mary, spent a wonderful three days with every waking minute filled with enjoyment. Time with Mary was always well spent and I treasure and enjoy the memories I have of her. She leaves behind a great legacy of linguistic work and writing on access to education and to justice for deaf people. More importantly, she will live on in the lives of those she touched through her teaching, her kindness and generosity and her wonderful sense of humour.
Mary, I am so happy to have known you and we miss you!
Marianna Buultjens

When I first met Mary she was part of the English Department at Moray House. I got to know her better when I joined the British Sign Language Research Project - way back then most of us had a full complement of hair and none of it grey! It was also in the days before personal computers - staggering I know, so imagine how difficult it was to produce Words in Hand, each page put together without the aid of a graphics package or scanning software. We eventually managed to secure some time on a Finance Dept Webstar computer that took large floppy discs almost the size of small dinner plates. The project was located in a large art studio in Chessel's Land with useful benches and cupboards for laying out material and articles or for Mary to keep boxes of student assignments and dissertations, just in case. . . When it rained, buckets had to be placed around the room so we soon learned where not to place equipment or paperwork and the roof itself was sloping, made of some kind of heavy corrugated perspex so no sound absorption when it rained or when birds landed and walked across it.

It's strange what sometimes stays in your memory more clearly or longer than other 'more important' things, like the little white-haired Continuity/Sweetie Lady who came with the BBC Horizon film crew, carrying her clip board and a huge bag of sweeties, or Mary's "Mr Men" coffee cups, some half finished, others untouched, which could be found all over the studio depending on where she was when she was interrupted or something significant occurred to her. The 'more important' would be the research itself, of course, but Words in Hand is the evidence of all the research and hard work.

Through Mary we met lots of interesting people and had some unusual experiences, and not just through the project . . . I also have a collection of photographs, mainly from social gatherings which reflects the changing styles of fashion, the sylph-like figures (of us all) and the Princess Diana style dresses with those big white collars and a fuchsia pink satin trouser suit (oh yes) - it was the 80s! One relatively recent photograph of Mary and myself is at Dublin airport - unfortunately, we are positioned at the wrong end of a huge metal flying pig - it should've been a sheep, I know.

Ruth and Mary, and the pig

Ruth and Mary, and the pig that should have been a sheep

Working with Mary on the BSL Research project was my first experience of team working which, through Mary's patience and encouragement, was also an educational and broadening experience. It is with hindsight, that I can appreciate how inspiring that period was. A little over 10 years later Mary came back to Moray House to join SSC and the college thus completing the circle. Over the years there has been a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun too and I'll miss her support, chat and laughter - but I'm sure I'll not be the only one to feel that way.
Ruth Simpson

back to index

SSC Residential Conference: Friday, 24th and Saturday, 25th March, 2006 A Fresh Look at Language and Communication Issues in Deaf Education: An 'Enlightened Empirical Approach'

Proceedings from this conference will be dedicated to the memory of Dr Mary Brennan. The Conference is jointly organised with NDCS Scotland, who are also sponsoring the event. Other sponsors so far include Oxford University Press and Moray House School of Education. The Conference is primarily aimed at Teachers of Deaf Children (ToD) in Scotland. Therefore places for Scottish ToDs will be heavily subsidised, and will cost a maximum of £170, including accommodation and meals at Dunblane Hydro; it is hoped that this will be further reduced.

Professor Marc Marshark: Language and Communication: an 'Enlightened Empirical Approach'. Department of Research, National Technical Institute for the Deaf - Rochester Institute of Technology, USA. Honorary Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Aberdeen. Editor, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
Professor Alys Young: Newborn Hearing Screening: Language Issues. Manchester University
Dr Greg Leigh: Interventions re language and communication- balancing parental issues with administrative demands. Assistant Chief Executive (Educational Services), Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, New South Wales, Australia
Dr Connie Mayer: Early language and literacy. Associate Professor, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Programme, York University, Toronto, Canada
Dr Sue Gregory: Language and Social Interaction. Former Reader in Deaf Education, University of Birmingham. Author of many key texts within deaf education.
Sue Archbold, M Phil: Issues around cochlear implantation. Education Co-ordinator, The Ear Foundation (previously manager of the Nottingham Cochlear Implant Programme).

Please get in touch with SSC if you are interested in attending.

Braille Transcribers - Scottish Braille Press

Positions have become available at The Scottish Braille Press for experienced Braille transcribers within a well established and friendly team. You will assist in the production of Braille and large print documents, from receipt of the document to dispatch, for customers with serious sight problems. Excellent communication skills, including accurate spelling and grammar, and knowledge of Megadots or Duxbury are essential. You should be confident in using PC software and have the ability to work accurately and quickly. Excellent organisational and interpersonal skills will enable you to make an important contribution to delivering an excellent service to all our clients. Positions are full-time with a salary circa £14,500
Please send a copy of your updated CV and a cover letter to:
Claire Aldridge, HR Officer, PO Box 500, Gillespie Crescent, Edinburgh, EH10 4HZ
Alternatively telephone: 0131 229 1456 between 9 am - 4 pm, Monday to Friday

back to index

Batteries Not Included

batteries not included

In 2004 we held a course Batteries not Included: an exploration of issues in sex education and sexuality for people with multiple disabilities. Further to this Paul Hart and Susan Douglas-Scott have produced a pack of materials in association with Common Knowledge.

This pack is an exploration of sexuality for people with complex communication support needs - dreams, ambitions and realities. The term complex communication support needs covers the 'groups' of people whose needs this pack are addressing, for three reasons. First, this term focuses on the needs arising from the individual's difficulties in communicating and in being listened to rather than on the impairments that give rise to these difficulties. Second, the term 'support needs' places the onus on others to find ways to communicate with, listen to and find out the preferences of the individual. And finally, it captures the needs of a diverse group of people with a wide range of impairments.

The pack includes a framework for considering a number of issues related to sexuality for people with complex communication support needs and solutions to some of these sexuality issues where possible. It discusses the current dilemmas in relation to sexual expression for people with complex communication support needs within current legal and policy frameworks and underpins the rights of people with complex communication support needs to be sexual citizens and be included in the sexual health agenda.

The pack is available as a PDF file from the Common Knowledge website:
Common Knowledge, Room 14, Adelphi Centre, 12 Commercial Road, Glasgow, G5 0PQ
Telephone: 0141 429 4912,
Fax: 0141 429 4869

back to index

Resource Library Update

As part of the reorganisation of the centre, we have seen a few changes in the Library. One of our aims in moving things around was to ensure that the aisles between the shelf stacks comply with regulations. I hope that all visitors will appreciate the additional space as it is now much easier to get around the shelves when there is more than one person in the library! Unfortunately this means we have had to lose the round study table. However, some limited study space is still available beside the Librarian's desk - and she doesn't bite! Another important change to note is that the SSC library is now located nearer the door and CALL Centre's library is now at the far end where our VI and Journal sections used to be. The Deaf and Special Education materials are still in the central area but they have been rearranged. Allan Wilson and I have swapped desks so I am now nearer the door alongside my colleagues from the SSC and the SSC books. There are only two access points to the library from the corridor. SSC visitors should turn up the first aisle on the left-hand side.

I have been busy clearing out some older material in preparation for this move, which means I have a new list of withdrawn items that you may be interested in for yourself or your organisation. They are mostly older or extra copies of books that are not strictly about Deafness or Visual Impairment. The bulk of them are from the Special Education and General Communication sections. Please get in touch if you would like to see a list of the books; I will be hoping to dispose of unwanted copies by the end of October 2005.

Sheila Mackenzie,
Resource Library,
Telephone: 0131 651 6069

Parents and Health

There are two new publications from Contact a Family that will be useful to health professionals in their work with disabled children and their families.

Parent Participation in health settings is a practical guide to improving parents' involvement in advising upon the delivery of services to disabled children. It contains examples of parent participation working well in a variety of settings. Involving parents in service design results in better, more cost effective provision.

The guide includes 14 case studies, which cover, amongst other things, working with parents to produce information on local services; extending specialist play provision in children's wards; improving A&E departments and establishing parents' forums which will influence services and policy across the whole range of issues affecting families with disabled children. Top tips advise on finding parents, and keeping them on board.

Finding medical information on the internet is a leaflet produced in response to concerns from paediatricians and support groups who found that the internet was providing some parents with information that could be misleading or incorrect. The leaflet includes guidelines for parents to help them evaluate the information they are finding on the web.

These publications are free and are available from:
Contact a Family, 209-211 City Rd, London, EC1V 1JN
Telephone: 020 7608 8700
Fax: 020 7608 8701
Helpline: 0808 808 3555 - free for parents and carers (10 am - 4 pm, Mon-Fri)
Textphone: 020 7608 8702
For further information contact
Louise Moffatt:
Telephone: 020 7608 8741