Creating Linguistic Access for Deaf and
Deafblind People:


1 Executive Summary

1.1 Deaf people are currently excluded from many aspects of everyday life in Scotland because of a lack of linguistic access. If appropriate systems were in place, deaf people would be able to access information and thus participate more fully in Scottish society. The potential contributions, which deaf people can make to Scottish life, are currently being wasted or diminished.

1.2 Deaf people often use a sign language, British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate: it has been estimated that there are more BSL users in the UK than Gaelic or Welsh speakers (BDA, 2001). If services are offered using BSL, these deaf people can exploit such services: without BSL access, these same deaf people are excluded from many areas of life.

1.3 Deaf people who are unable to hear English adequately, even with the support of audiological aids, will need to access English visually, for example through the use of subtitling on television or video or through the services of lipspeakers. Although the use of visual English is increasing, in part because of Government legislation, there are many areas of life, including education, health, social work services and employment, where such access is limited or non-existent.

1.4 Some deaf people do have some residual hearing, which they would be able to exploit if they were given access to good audiological support. However, many deaf people are not given information about the new types of hearing aids available, for example programmable and digital aids; they often experience poor acoustic conditions in the workplace, in education and in many other contexts.

1.5 The chief barriers to inclusion are

i. lack of personnel with appropriate linguistic skills, education and qualifications: these include British Sign Language/English interpreters, tutors of British Sign Language, lipspeakers and bilingual/multi-lingual professionals with fluency in BSL as well as the relevant spoken language(s);

ii. lack of resources and materials, such as signed and subtitled public information videos and TV programmes, signed and subtitled curriculum and assessment materials;

iii. lack of awareness and understanding of the relevant linguistic issues on the part of employers, service providers and local and national government personnel.

1.6 Bringing about change requires a long-term, holistic, integrated strategy, rather than short -term, piecemeal initiatives.

1.7 Scotland can take the lead in adopting such an approach, involving cross-departmental collaboration and co-operation between the statutory and voluntary sector.

1.8 A Scottish Centre for Deaf Studies should be established to co-ordinate the range of initiatives required and to ensure a seamless approach to provision. The SCDS would give structural recognition to the language preferences and requirements of deaf people. Relevant and urgently needed initiatives include the development and provision of:

i. appropriate training courses, particularly for BSL/English interpreters, BSL tutors, deafblind communicators, lipspeakers, notetakers and speech to text operators;

ii. technical resources, and materials, including multi-media resources;

iii. research to underpin education and service provision, including research into English as an additional language for deaf people; research into the nature of BSL and BSL acquisition; research into strategies for accessing spoken English visually: research into environmental acoustics.

1.9 The Scottish Centre for Deaf Studies could be made up of a consortium or federation of institutions and organisations.

1.10 Dedicated pump-priming funding should be made available to support the above developments.

Last updated 06.Mar.03

Scottish Sensory Centre

Moray House School of Education
University of Edinburgh
Holyrood Road