Increasing participation, access, and inclusion for signing deaf communities

Impact: Societal, Legal

Description of impact

Heriot-Watt University conducts research on sign language use, policy, and access. Our global impact re-positions signing in public life, enabling 70,000,000 deaf signers to participate in, and have access to, an inclusive society in various contexts. Our research: shaped policy on professional services and education in Scotland, the UK and Uganda; led to frameworks for teaching British Sign Language (BSL) in schools; and informed law reform allowing signers to serve as jurors in Australia and Ireland. Our guidelines improve signers' access to services and information by raising the quality of professional sign language translation and interpreting (SLTI) provision worldwide.

Who is affected

Professional services and education in Scotland, the UK and Uganda


Details of the impact :
Our underpinning research has shaped policy and standards and had an impact on education which has led to greater participation of, and access and inclusion for, signers. The impact of this work has been recognised through awards.

Impact on Policies and Standards:
Demand for Heriot-Watt’s expertise in relation to public policy is international. Napier and Adam were co-leaders of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and WASLI Task Force to develop an accreditation system for International Sign interpreters to work at the United Nations and European institutions, which was established in 2015 and has led to the accreditation of 30 deaf and hearing IS interpreters worldwide. Kusters, Napier and Adam draw on their research to contribute as members to the WFD expert groups on developing countries, accessibility and sign language and deaf studies respectively and have contributed to writing several policy documents that have provided guidelines on employing and accrediting interpreters, the use of signing avatars and the political identity status of signers. Napier and Turner gave evidence to the International Telecommunications Union leading to specific policy recommendations on sign language video interpreted calls.

Our work with deaf jurors was used in evidence to members of parliament, policy officers, legal personnel and disability commissioners in Australia, Ireland and the UK, which has led to changes to Juries Acts in Ireland and Australia allowing deaf people to serve as jurors with sign language interpreters – a significant difference to deaf citizenship. Two deaf people have since served as jurors in Ireland in December 2017 and September 2020. Furthermore, the Australian Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity's Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals (2017) and reports of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for the UK (2017) and Australia (2019) now mention provision for deaf jurors. In addition, the Scottish Government Justice Sector Working Group and the Ministry of Justice are considering implementing corresponding changes at Scottish and UK levels respectively.

Our research also underpins Scottish and UK policy discussions, with international best practice informing standards and practices locally. Our research was influential in achieving the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015. The team were invited to give evidence to various committees to shape the Bill and have led a number of Scottish Parliament forums that contribute to defining BSL’s future in an inclusive Scotland. We play a key role as one of two academic members in the UK Council on Deafness Special Interest Group currently drafting proposals for a BSL Bill to be put before the UK Parliament, and have advised the Cyber Resilience Unit of Scottish Government about risks relating to 'accessible formats' and cyber security.

We collectively provided significant input to the Scottish Government’s BSL/English interpreting landscape review (2019), which feeds into actions as part of the BSL National Plan. Based on our identification of best practices in SLTI in the domains of law, we have given input to ASLI (2015), the Scottish Criminal Justice Working Group on Interpreting & Translation (2016), the English National Police Chief’s Council (2016), and the Advocate’s Gateway (2017) on various toolkits, codes of practice and best practice guidelines, which provided an evidence-base for interpreters and legal professionals to work together.

Impact on Education and Professional Development:
Our research to understand the structure and usage of BSL led to commitments in the BSL National Plan and new awards from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (from 2018), framing expectations for teaching BSL in schools and establishing a pathway for BSL to be offered as a language subject in primary and secondary schools across Scotland. Also, as a result of the above research, a BSL GCSE is being developed along the same guidelines with input from the Heriot-Watt team, which could make this qualification available to thousands of school children. This significantly raises the status of BSL: deaf and hearing schoolchildren will be able to be accredited in BSL alongside other modern languages, providing a pathway for people wanting to work with signers in key professions.

The team worked with police forces in Scotland and Manchester to develop training for officers working with sign language interpreters and delivered training through the UK National Register for Communication Professionals with Deaf People, ASLI, Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association, the Sign Language Interpreting Service in Dublin and the Flemish Sign Language Interpreters Association leading to enhanced best practices in SLTI, which improves quality of participation, access and inclusion for signers. New best practice guidelines developed by WASLI and ASLI enhanced the professional standing for 25,000-30,000 SLTI practitioners worldwide. This professionalisation ensures higher quality standards of access and more inclusion for signers who can live better lives as a consequence.
Impact statusAchieved
Impact date1 Jun 201531 Dec 2020
Category of impactSocietal, Legal


  • 2021