OF SIGN LANGUAGE
Creating Linguistic Access for Deaf and
A STRATEGY FOR
Deaf People and Linguistic Access
This Report focuses on the rights of deaf and deafblind people to have full linguistic access in all areas of their lives, including education, social work services, health, law, politics and leisure. As has been shown in a range of previous research and reports (for example, The Commission of Enquiry into Human Aids to Communication, 1992; Sensing Progress, 1998; Provision of Communication Support Services for Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing People: A Framework, SASLI, 1997) such access is currently not adequately available across all the above areas. As we shall see, recent and proposed legislation makes it possible, even likely, that unless action is taken urgently, Scottish institutions and authorities may find themselves liable for failing in their duties to enable full access for deaf people.
Jackie Baillie comments in her foreword to the Equality Strategy:
We are determined to tackle discrimination and disadvantage, to foster respect for diversity of the people of Scotland and to forge new partnerships for change.
While the Strategy itself stresses:
Our vision is for a just and inclusive Scotland. A Scotland where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Scottish Executive, 2000, p.1
Our aim in this Report is to face up to the extent to which deaf and deafblind people are currently excluded from Scottish life and culture, but also to suggest ways in which this exclusion can be transformed into inclusion through linguistic access. This Report also demonstrates the positive impact that deaf and deafblind people can have on our society and how they can contribute to its diversity.
We can recognise two groups of deaf people defined by language preference:
It is useful to distinguish the two groups in this way in order to recognise that the difference in linguistic preference brings with it a different set of access requirements. Those in the first group will wish to access services and information primarily in BSL; those in the second group will require access through English.
1 The term Deaf using an upper case D is often used within the literature to distinguish this group, who see themselves as a linguistic and cultural minority from deaf people (using a lower case d) who have a hearing loss, but who do not see themselves as forming a separate linguistic and cultural grouping. However, for ease of use within this account, the term deaf will refer to both groups. BSL-using deaf people will be referred to as Deaf whenever it is necessary to identify them separately.
However, it should also be noted that while Deaf Community members may have a preference for BSL, they will also typically make some use of English. This means that they too will often seek access additionally through visual English, for example, through subtitling. Indeed, it can be demonstrated that the use of English within the Deaf Community has increased substantially through the exploitation of technical resources, such as text phones, the internet, WAP phones and the like.
It is worth stressing that for Deaf Community members, English is an additional language: in its spoken form, it can never be fully accessible. Moreover, we know that full access to English literacy has not been possible for many deaf children and adults. While changes in the education of deaf children and young people may begin to reverse this situation, English will often act primarily as a support to access, rather than providing full access for Deaf Community members. Of course, the increased availability of visual English will itself promote and support fuller access to English literacy by deaf children and adults. If more explicit policies are developed which can support the development of English-based literacy, then we can envisage an increase in the use of English by Deaf Community members.
Just as there is a place for English as an additional language for members of the Deaf Community, there may also be a place for BSL as an additional language for deafened or deaf people whose first language is English or another spoken language. This does not mean that we should ignore the rights of such deaf people to have access through English. Rather, just as many hearing people now learn BSL for interest, deaf and deafened people may well be able to improve the quality of their lives and their communication options by having opportunities to learn and use BSL.
Numbers of Deaf People
Unfortunately we do not have precise information either on the numbers of deaf people or on the number of BSL users. It is disappointing that the recent Census which could have gathered such information, failed to do so. There are working estimates. The numbers of Deaf people using BSL is usually put at around 70,000 80,000 for the UK as a whole (eg; figures from the BDA).
However, any figure of BSL users should be widened to include family members and others who also use BSL, though not necessarily as their primary language. The RNID estimates that 1 in 7 of the adult population has some kind of hearing loss and therefore may benefit from support for accessing English, such as subtitling and lipreading abilities.
Barriers to Inclusion and Equality
Deaf people face a range of barriers, which work against them, being fully included within society and which deny them equal rights. These barriers can be summed up under two key headings;
For deaf people whose preferred or only language is English, inclusion is negatively affected by lack of personnel and resources to make spoken English visible. The personnel involved include
Relevant resources include
Inclusion is also negatively affected by the limited availability of resources to make English more audible. Such resources include
This account focuses primarily on the personnel
required to enable linguistic access, rather than audiological and technical
equipment as such. A focus on technical equipment would require a separate
report in itself. However, it is worth noting that following on from discussions
with deaf organisations in Scotland, the Scottish Executive is currently
conducting a Review of Audiological Services in Scotland. It is hoped that
this will lead to improved provision of appropriate audiological support
for deaf and deafblind adults and children. Reference is made later in the
report to the importance of being able to access bilingual materials, eg;
by exploiting multi-media technology.
Negative Attitudes, Low Expectations and Lack of Awareness of the Hearing World.
Deaf people face negative attitudes, often linked to discriminatory practice, on an everyday basis. These attitudes include:
This Report also draws attention to the needs of deafblind people. They too are negatively affected by both lack of linguistic access and by ignorance and lack of awareness. The use of the term deafblind here follows the definition developed by the Deafblind Liaison Services Group in 1988:
Persons are regarded as deafblind if they
have a severe degree of combined visual and auditory impairment resulting
in problems of communication, information and mobility. The group will include
persons who have had severe vision and hearing impairment since birth or
early childhood and those who develop the dual impairment in adult life.
Deafblind Services Liaison Group, 1988
As is the case with deaf people, deafblind people will have different linguistic requirements depending upon which language they use as their first or preferred language. Some deafblind people will exploit English through what is known as tactile fingerspelling or the deafblind manual alphabet. Others will make use of BSL. Most will make some use of tactile means of access, although the precise nature of the access will vary. This may be determined by when they acquired the hearing and sight loss, the severity of both and whether or not their condition is a progressive one. Thus many people with Usher Syndrome are born deaf. They may well become fluent users of BSL. However, as they begin to experience limitations of vision, such as tunnel vision, their ability to access signing through vision alone diminishes. Sometimes those with Usher Syndrome can access signing visually if the signer adapts their signing to suit the needs of the individual. BSL/English interpreters working with those with Usher Syndrome need to be trained to meet their needs. Others will wish to make use of hands-on signing. Thus all deafblind people will need the services of appropriate personnel to enable linguistic access in whatever form. The requirements of deafblind people are discussed further in Chapter Four.
Bringing about Equality and Inclusion
If deaf and deafblind people are to be truly included
within Scottish society and to have equal opportunities in such areas as
education and employment, then there needs to be a fundamental change in
how access problems are tackled. There needs to be a holistic, integrated
approach, involving Scottish national and local government, as well as deaf
voluntary organisations and deaf people. Unfortunately, to date, the only
attempts to solve these problems have been short-term, and piecemeal. This
Report offers a strategy for change, premised on the notion that deaf and
deafblind people themselves hold the key to change.
A Pathway to Equality
The key to change lies in the education of young
people. We need to ensure that changes are implemented from pre-school right
through to FE and HE. The central notion is that linguistic access and respect
for linguistic preference should be nurtured from early childhood, through
school, FE and HE and within the opportunities available for continuous
education and lifelong learning.
British Sign Language and Deaf Studies should be integral components of curriculum and assessment, which may be studied by both deaf and hearing people. Additionally deaf young people, and where appropriate deafblind young people, should be enabled to access other subjects in the curriculum through BSL and undertake assessments through BSL.
Qualifications gained would enable individuals to enter undergraduate programmes in related areas, so that those entering professional training to become eg; Deaf Tutors of BSL or BSL/English interpreters, would have a solid basis for development. Deaf young people whose language preference is BSL nevertheless should have access to English as an additional language and should be provided with opportunities to develop English competence and access English either through supported auditory means or visually.
Those whose language preference is English should be given opportunities to develop English skills such as lipreading and the use of subtitling within the educational context. They should be given full access through appropriate acoustic environments, hearing technology and visual English. They should also have opportunities to develop BSL as an additional language.
Currently, those wishing to enter educational courses relating to the professions which provide access (BSL/English interpreting, tutors of BSL) typically do not have the firm educational background that would normally form the basis of such professional education. An individual working towards becoming a French/English interpreter will normally have had several years of education in French at secondary school as well as English throughout both primary and secondary. A person entering an educational course for BSL/English interpreting will probably have had only part-time opportunities outside of formal education to learn BSL and may well also have had minimal opportunities to develop understanding and knowledge of deaf people and the Deaf Community.
Specific proposals to remedy this situation are presented in Chapter Five. Before exploring these further, we need to examine the reality of access in relation to key areas of the everyday lives of deaf people.
Last updated 06.Mar.03
Scottish Sensory Centre
Moray House School of Education
University of Edinburgh