Creating Linguistic Access for Deaf and
Deafblind People:


4 Creating Linguistic Access

Linguistic access for deaf people can only be brought about if we ensure that we have appropriately trained professional personnel. This section focuses on the key people who can support linguistic access. These are:

The Personnel

Deaf people whose first or preferred language is BSL will require the services of the following:

BSL users may also wish to access English visually and therefore will also require the services of

Deafblind people may require the services of

Tutors of BSL play a key role in enabling the above professionals to become competent in BSL. They are therefore essential to the overall picture of need. Deaf people whose preferred language is English or another spoken language such as Gaelic or Hindi will require the following:

This section explores the availability of such personnel; the training options available and the measures needed to ensure sufficient numbers of trained and qualified personnel.

BSL/English Interpreters

BSL/English interpreters enable communication to take place between users of English and users of BSL. They interpret directly from one language into the other. Most interpreters operate both ways, ie working from and into both BSL and English. BSL/English interpreters need to be fluent in both BSL and English. However, this in itself is not sufficient. As with other interpreters and translators, BSL/English interpreters need to be highly skilled, taking the source message in one language and transferring it to the target language, without any loss of content or communicative effect. They also need to be able to match the register and style of the target language with that of the source language.

There is plenty of evidence from linguistics research, including the work on courtroom interpreting reported in Section 3 to demonstrate that this task is highly complex. As with spoken language interpreters, BSL/English interpreters need a high level of general education since they may be required to interpret a wide range of different types of content. They are also required to develop professional competence, which involves being sensitive to the needs of clients, acting impartially, working within ethical and professional guidelines and collaborating appropriately with other professionals, such as legal personnel, medical personnel, teachers, social workers and care staff (cf Codes of Ethics of SASLI and CACDP)

Numbers of Interpreters

There are currently 39 Registered interpreters in Scotland. However, a number of these are actually employed in other capacities, often related to Deaf people, but in situations where they do not exploit their interpreting skills. Indeed in some cases it would be inappropriate for the individual to also act as an interpreter. A number of interpreters are employed by specific organisations to carry out interpreting work within that organisation. Thus in practice approximately 15 interpreters are available to undertake the whole gamut of work across the areas of need outlined in Section Three, eg; in relation to employment, education, the courts, police stations, hospitals, etc.

Even if all of the 39 individuals were working full time, this number is tiny in comparison to the actual requirements. Finland, which has a similar population to Scotland, ie approximately 5 million people, and a similar deaf population to Scotland, has approximately 340 interpreters. This figure was achieved through a special initiative on the part of the Finnish Government which saw the interpreter numbers increase over a 7-year period from approximately 50 to over 300. Comparable changes are required in Scotland to bring the numbers of interpreters to the required level.

Current Training Opportunities

Currently the only certificated course for BSL/English interpreters in Scotland is a two-year part-time modular course offered at Heriot-Watt University. The course began with a pilot programme in 1996. The course is based in the School of Languages which has an international reputation in the field of translation and interpreting. However, there are a number of difficulties facing the course providers:

Heriot-Watt University should be built upon. However, a part-time course with limited staffing cannot be expected to meet the need for a fully qualified interpreting profession in Scotland. It is vital that the current course is restructured, upgraded and appropriately staffed to provide an appropriate route to qualified, registered interpreter status in Scotland.

The only other route to achieving qualifications within Scotland is the S/NVQ route. A Level Four S/NVQ has only been available since August 2001. While these are ‘vocational’ qualifications, students still need to show evidence of theoretical underpinning and knowledge. At present there are no training programmes explicitly supporting progress towards obtaining the S/NVQ and there is no approved Assessment Centre in Scotland. Thus no single individual has as yet come through this route within Scotland.

A further possibility would be for Scottish students to attend one of the University level courses currently offered by three English universities. One of these is at sub-degree level (University of Bristol), another at degree level (University of Wolverhampton) and the other at postgraduate level (University of Central Lancashire). However, this would require additional funding in relation to travel and accommodation. Moreover it begs the question as to why Scotland cannot itself offer appropriate training and education.

Deaf Translators/Relay Interpreters/Presenters

The traditional expectation is that those undertaking BSL/English interpreter education will be hearing people. However, there is an increasing role for a new kind of deaf professional in this area. As shown in Chapter Three, there is now increasing use of deaf bilingual professionals within television and the media. Rather than using hearing interpreters to interpret television programmes, Deaf professionals work from written English to BSL. Sometimes ‘relay interpreting’ is used: here the English is re-presented in a form exploiting BSL signs but essentially English structure – a type of Sign Supported English – by a hearing person, and then interpreted into BSL by a deaf person. There is very limited use of this type of interpreting in live situations, partly because it is inevitably more expensive. What is increasingly evident is that Deaf people can bring particular expertise to the interpreting/translation profession. BSL native users are able to produce highly competent BSL. However, they still require opportunities to train. Simply being able to use BSL competently does not make one a competent translator or interpreter.

Deaf and hearing interpreters/translators working together as teams within television, education, at conferences and the like should be able to provide a high level of service. Although UK-wide, interpreter courses have been ready to accept Deaf students, to date there has been very limited take-up of places. It is important that course providers recognise the need to recruit deaf as well as hearing students and that funding is made available to support such students.

Bilingual Professionals

As indicated in Section Three, there are many professionals who interact on a regular basis with deaf children and adults: these include teachers, social workers, community workers and medical staff. To date there has been no formal requirement that any of these professionals should be fluent in BSL, even though for many of the Deaf people concerned, BSL will be their preferred language.

To date, teachers of deaf children have only been required to have a Stage One qualification in BSL as part of the requirements needed to obtain the Teacher of the Deaf qualification. While the University of Edinburgh has accepted that this should be changed to S/NVQ Three BSL, the lack of appropriate BSL courses has delayed the implementation of this change. Currently, there are also teachers working directly with deaf children and young people who have not gained either the specialist qualification in Deaf Education or any qualification in BSL.

None of the other professions currently requires those working with Deaf people to have fluent BSL skills. Yet it is difficult to see how such professionals as Social Workers with Deaf people can carry out their work effectively without such skills.

While it could be argued that BSL/English interpreters could be used to facilitate interaction between these professionals and Deaf clients, Deaf people themselves have stressed the importance of being able to interact directly with social workers, psychiatrists, care staff, etc. Moreover, the shortage of interpreters means that it is highly unlikely that access to interpreting provision will be available. It is recognised that not all staff across all of the relevant professions could achieve fluency in BSL. However, it is suggested here that in all of the relevant professions there should be a group of individuals who choose to work most directly with Deaf people and these individuals should have such skills. Training either needs to be built into the structure of the relevant courses or could be taken as part of a post-professional qualification open to a range of professionals.

Deafblind Guide Communicators/BSL/English Interpreters
(Hands-On Signing)/Deafblind Interpreters (Manual)

This new Guidance was only issued in March 2001 and therefore it is too early to assess its impact on services for deafblind people in England and Wales. However, given that there will be monitoring of the implementation of the Guidance, there is certainly an expectation, particularly within organisations such as Sense and Deafblind UK that this is having a major impact. Although it will take time to ensure that there are sufficient personnel in place, the new requirements mean that local authorities are expected to take action to ensure that training takes place.

If comparable guidance were to be issued in Scotland, then this would make an important contribution to changing both the climate and the reality of provision. Rather than having to fight for provision of access services, there would be a recognition of the deafblind person’s entitlement to such services. Of course, the need for training of appropriate personnel would be even more apparent.


Lipspeakers are used by some deaf people who wish to access spoken English visually: others may prefer access through the written form of the language, eg; through speech-to-text services. Lipspeakers reproduce the spoken message without voicing the words, while articulating in such a way that the deaf person can recognise English words more easily. Lipspeakers can provide a consistency of rhythm and expression which means that the deaf people concerned do not have to struggle to lipread a wide range of speakers with varying types of lip pattern. They may also use additional gestures, and in some cases fingerspelling, to clarify the message: the precise nature of the provision will depend on the wishes of the client(s).

Currently there is no official Register of Lipspeakers in Scotland, only two people within Scotland are on the CACDP Register. CACDP offers Level Two and Level Three awards in Lipspeaking, but does not itself offer courses. While courses have been run occasionally in Scotland in the past, there are currently no courses available leading to the Stage Two or Three awards.

As with the provision of other types of linguistic access, where lipspeakers are known to be available, their use has increased substantially. Thus since employing lipspeakers, the Edinburgh and East of Scotland Deaf Society has seen an increase in demand for lipspeakers of 430% in the last year, in Glasgow Deaf Connections also reported a rise in demand. As deaf people accessing through English see how useful such support can be, they inevitably seek this out more regularly. Once again, it is essential that training is made available in Scotland to enable increased demand to be met.


Deaf people require the services of notetakers in a wide range of contexts. However, in general, there is very little awareness of this need and very little provision.

Why is notetaking so essential for deaf people?

When hearing people attend a lecture or participate in a meeting, they can look down to write notes while still hearing the spoken language of the lecturer or other participants. Deaf people who are using a lipspeaker or a BSL/English interpreter to access the information cannot look away to write notes without missing the next part of the message. Similarly, those deaf people who are using audiological support, such as loop systems, usually also find it essential to watch the face of the speaker in order to lipread and therefore cannot easily make notes simultaneously. Even if speech-to-text versions are available through data projection, the deaf person again cannot look down to make notes without missing what comes next.

When are notetakers used?

The main contexts in which notetakers are currently used are Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). They are used to a much more limited extent within work situations, although deaf people are increasingly recognising the value of using notetakers for meetings, group work and so on. Surprisingly, trained notetakers are used only rarely within primary and secondary education, although pupils themselves are often expected to take notes. This means that in many contexts, especially mainstream contexts, deaf pupils who attempt to take notes themselves will inevitably miss much of the information.

Both Edinburgh and East Scotland Deaf Society and in Glasgow Deaf Connections report an increase in the demand for notetakers and a changing pattern of usage. As more deaf people recognise their rights under the Access to Work legislation (see Section Three), they are beginning seek further access through the use of notetakers within work contexts, eg; for meetings, interviews and the like.

The Demands of Notetaking

It might be assumed that notetaking is not a particularly high level skill. However, as CACDP comment:
“People have been taking notes for deaf people for hundreds of years. It is probably the method of communication most frequently turned to by friends, relatives and other lay people who are confronted by a deaf person for the first time. There is an enormous difference, however, between casually jotting down comments, questions and answers on the back of a bus ticket and writing a verbatim report of a lecture or the proceedings of a discussion group.” CACDP Notetaking Pack, 1996

The aim of a professional notetaker is to record the dialogue/presentation verbatim, working within a given environment. Thus notetakers need to acquire techniques and conventions for structuring and organising information in different ways for different purposes. They also need to be able to exploit such skills as using new technology, including specialised software. Some of the skills in notetaking, such as the use of précis and paraphrasing, also require a good general educational background. As CACDP recognise within their training course, notetakers work as professionals within a range of environments. Therefore they need to understand these different environments. They also need to be well informed in relation to deaf people and their culture and be able to act in a professional, objective manner, respecting confidentiality and privacy.

Availability of Training Opportunities

It will be clear then that specialised training should be offered. CACDP has developed a training package and this has been offered within Scotland. However, the number of people who have taken this training to date is very limited indeed. As in other areas, individuals who have no or minimal training are often used.

Speech to Text Reporters

Speech-to-text (STT) reporters usually work in live situations, such as conferences, lectures and meetings. They make use of what is termed ‘machine shorthand’, typically using either the ‘Palantype’ system available in the UK since 1945 or the American system ‘Stenograph’ which was introduced in the 1980s. Both systems make use of
“… a special keyboard on which operators strike a combination of keys (known as a chord) to produce a phonetic and mainly syllabic representation of spoken language. These chords pass through sophisticated software which translates them into correct English. If the chords are not recognised by the software, the phonetic equivalent will be displayed. The use of chords and also short forms for common words allows the operator to keep up with the speed of spoken English.” CACDP, Fact sheet 6, 2001

New technology allows the text to be projected straight onto large screens where appropriate. This allows those who are accessing through English to have immediate access to the content. ‘Palantype’ has received publicity through its use by Lord Jack Ashley. He first made use of the system in the House of Commons in 1976 and it is clear that Palantype transformed the then Jack Ashley’s access to parliamentary proceedings and allowed him to participate fully in parliamentary business. Unfortunately, although the use of speech-to-text reporting would similarly increase access and participation for many deaf people in Scotland, its use here remains very limited. There is a perception in some quarters that speech-to-text provision is unduly expensive. However, if appropriate equipment and personnel were available, it would be no more expensive than other types of provision: speech-to-text reporters are paid on a par with other professionals providing linguistic access.

Again CACDP has developed a Register of Speech-to-Text Reporters qualified to work with deaf people. As well as skills in machine shorthand, demonstrated by membership of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters or equivalent, those gaining access to the Register must pass CACDP’s examination in Deaf Awareness and obtain endorsement by two deaf users of the STT Reporter’s ability to provide an adequate record in a practical situation. There are currently 13 Speech to Text Reporters on this Register and as far as is known, none of these is resident in Scotland.

Once again, focused funding needs to be made available to allow a number of centres across Scotland to purchase the specialised equipment. Thereafter training courses need to be offered to ensure that those working with deaf people have the relevant skills and are capable of being admitted to the CACDP Register, or an equivalent Register for Scotland.

Tutors of BSL

The training of BSL/English interpreters and bilingual professionals, as well as the provision of adequate support for parents and families of deaf children, is dependent upon the availability of sign language classes at a range of levels. These in turn are dependent upon the availability of Deaf tutors of BSL. Currently there is a dearth of such trained personnel. This means that although there are a range of BSL awards available, including National Units from introductory to Level Three under SQA, as well as S/NVQ Levels 3 and 4, there are very few actual courses available, especially leading to the higher levels. It is impossible for individuals to go on to train as interpreters and bilingual professionals, if they are unable to access BSL courses.

Until about 25 years ago, hearing people wishing learn ‘the communication system used by Deaf people’ would probably be taught by other hearing people. Until then, there was little recognition that BSL was a highly complex language with its own grammatical structure. As the research on British Sign Language and other sign languages became better known (cf Brien, 1992), Deaf people began to recognise that not only did they use a highly evolved language, but they themselves should play a pivotal role in teaching that language. In the early 1980s, the University of Durham and the BDA established the BSL Tutor Training Course. This led to several hundred Deaf people, including some from Scotland, obtaining a University Certificate in the teaching of BSL at foundation level. As a result, many of these Deaf people went on to set up their own businesses or to become tutors within FE colleges.

However, the Durham course only provided training for teaching BSL at foundation level. Courses for teaching at higher levels have been offered in Durham, Bristol University and the City Literary Institute. In Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) offers a Professional Development Award: Certificate in Teaching British Sign Language (BSL). However, a full course leading to this award has not been completed. Currently, there are no training opportunities to become a qualified tutor of BSL within Scotland.

It is important to recognise that teaching BSL, like teaching any other language, requires a range of skills and professional competencies. Modern Language teachers, for example, are expected to undertake a degree in the relevant language and then go on to undertake a postgraduate qualification. Except for one set of courses at Durham University, BSL tutor training has typically been at below degree level. The progress towards undertaking such courses is made more difficult in that BSL has not typically been a subject within the school curriculum. Thus, unlike those hearing children who have English as their first language, deaf children are not given any information about what for many is their first or preferred language. Until this situation changes and Deaf people are able to access ongoing education in BSL it is unlikely that we will be able to remedy the situation.

We need to establish an infrastructure, which will enable Deaf people to opt for teaching BSL as one of a set of possibilities at FE and HE. This will mean allocating dedicated funds for such training (see next chapter).

Tutors of Lipreading

Approximately 730,000 deaf people in Scotland rely upon spoken English to communicate. Lipreading plays a crucial role in facilitating this communication on a daily basis. However, many people are poor lipreaders and need training to enable them to make effective use of this skill. However, only a small proportion of deaf people are able to attend lipreading classes because of the limited number of classes available. This in turn is linked to the shortage of trained lipreading tutors: Scotland currently has only 25 qualified lipreading tutors.

The only course to train tutors of lipreading is presently offered on a part-time basis (six residential weekends over 4 terms) and costs approximately £2,500 per student. In addition, there are extra costs involved in funding practical placements and observation visits. The course is accredited by the OCR (Oxford & Cambridge & RSA) and the Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults. Each course is able to take 12 students, who attend from all over Scotland. However, it is entirely dependent on donations and student fees, and students must find their own funds. Whilst some initial pump-priming money from the Scottish Executive has helped to some extent, funding remains a continuing problem. Of the 70 people who made enquiries, only 10 were able to attend this year’s course. Again there needs to be dedicated funding over a period of time to increase the numbers of lipreading tutors across the country.

Training of Trainers

Training of these professionals can only be offered if there are appropriate trainers/educators available: currently in Scotland it is the lack of such trainers, which has a negative knock-on effect in relation to provision. The key groups of trainers required are

As indicated above, there are very few trained Deaf tutors of BSL in Scotland and those that there are have mainly undertaken lower level courses. Tutors are needed to teach at all levels from introductory to S/NVQ Level Four and at interpreter training level, including specialist interpreter training.

Appropriate courses for tutors of BSL will include a focus on skills in BSL, BSL grammar, BSL variation, sign linguistics, language teaching approaches, aspects of pedagogy in relation to both adult and child learners. Thus a team of appropriate trainers is required who possess knowledge and expertise in the above areas. However, once there is a big enough core group of Deaf tutors who have themselves had such educational opportunities, it will be feasible for some of them to take on the training and education of Deaf tutors. However, in the first instance it is suggested here that there should be several intensive courses to meet the present urgent need within Scotland. This will mean using some expertise from within Scotland, but also looking outside Scotland, particularly to Deaf experts in Scandinavia and North America. While this may seem extravagant, there are a number of internationally respected Deaf trainers who could make an important contribution to the education of Deaf tutors in Scotland and to the development of appropriate curricular content. The involvement of these individuals would be an investment for the future. It cannot be stressed enough that without well trained Deaf tutors, it will not be possible to educate the other personnel working between BSL and English, including BSL/English interpreters, bilingual professionals and hands-on BSL/English interpreters.

While some experts are available within Scotland in relation to the other areas mentioned above, it will still be necessary to go outside of Scotland for some of the necessary expertise. Again this can be seen as a short-term necessity. Again, once a core group of individuals have received the appropriate training, they can go on to contribute to future professional training. The problem at the moment is that most of the current educational courses, eg; those for BSL/English interpreters are not at a high enough level to provide the core group required. We need to provide would-be trainers of the future with greater opportunities to obtain high-level qualifications and expertise.

Last updated 06.Mar.03

Scottish Sensory Centre
Moray House Institute of Education
University of Edinburgh
Holyrood Road