Andy Owen and Maria Bailey talk to us about the History of Communication Support Workers (CSW)

Published: Feb 5th, 2013

History of CSWsIn June 2012 we published our book, ‘History of CSWs: Communication Support Workers’. Many people involved in Deaf education in Britain immediately snapped up the book. The book investigates the background and the development of the role of the Communication Support Worker (CSW) in the UK and was published to mark the 25th anniversary since the fist qualified CSW entered the workforce. The reason why we decided to write the book was because there was widespread confusion about the role of the CSW and a need to fill a gap in factual material about CSWs and their work. For research we interviewed many important people in the history of Deaf education, some who attended the original CSW courses, and even some who developed and taught on those courses. These interviews bridged the years up to the present day, gave contemporary reports, dispelled many myths and answered many long-standing misconceptions of the CSW role, such as the comment, “Use of CSWs rather than interpreters was only ever a stop gap in the 1980’s, and one which was supposed to be temporary.”

New questions appeared

Having completed the project, we thought we could both relax and return to our usual routines. That was not to be, because as soon as the book was completed and published, new questions appeared that could not be ignored. Some questions included: Is it true that the CSW role is unique to the UK? Do all other countries use sign language interpreters in education? Why was it that some deaf educators in the USA felt that CSWs in Britain were not good enough, but others were so impressed they travelled to Britain to see for themselves? After giving it some thought, we agreed that one book was insufficient, and a second book was crying out to be written, investigating the role of the CSW (or a comparable role) in a number of countries. So it was that at the launch of the first book at the ACSW and NATED conference in Derby in June 2012, we announced our plans for the second book and invited people to contact us with details of any connections with people working in Deaf education in other countries. Word soon arrived about the shortage of sign language interpreters in Malta, and the fact that a group of campaigners in Gibraltar were trying to introduce a service for Deaf people there. Contacts were made and plans were put into place.

Interviews face-to-face the best method

We agreed that wherever possible, interviews would be carried out face- to-face, in the style of the first book, because this had proved to be a very successful method of researching. It gave those interviewed the opportunity to voice their experiences and provided a fresh style of presenting information. Fortunately Maria was planning to take a holiday in the USA, so arrangements were made with two schools for the Deaf and one university and the first interviews for the new book were completed during October 2012. Maria took another holiday in Malta in November and was able to meet the teachers of the Deaf working in Malta and Gozo (the small neighbouring island) and three sign language interpreters who work in Malta. On the same visit she attended the Deaf Club in Valletta and chatted to many people about the research. A further trip to Spain in January 2013 resulted in Maria visiting Gibraltar to
gain information about a campaign to introduce a service for Deaf people, and a visit to Madrid followed.

Renewed interest

Deaf Education AbroadThere was then a flurry of interest, and new contacts were made by word- of-mouth, or referrals from those being interviewed. Very soon contacts had been made with professionals in Holland, Italy, Israel, Jordan, Australia, South Africa and even Uganda. Everyone expressed a willingness to take part in the research and freely gave their time. Where it was not possible to visit, interviews were conducted via Skype, so conversations could still take place. We have tried to determine whether Deaf professionals are employed in each country and what roles they have. We have also tried to gather the experiences of Deaf people themselves (what we are calling ‘Deaf voices’) because of the importance of gaining all sides of the story.


During the research for the new book, many interesting facts have come to light, real human-interest stories have been discovered, long-held misconceptions have been cleared up and a fascinating patchwork of provision has been weaved together.  Our intention is to publish the book at the ACSW and NATED conference in June 2013 in Bedford. To complete the research, more ‘Deaf voices’ are needed. If you are Deaf, have experiences of education in this or any other country and are happy to share your story, we would love to hear from you.

Andy Owen

Andy is a communication support worker (CSW) with the Royal Borough of Greenwich Sensory Service. He also trains CSWs and interpreters on voicing-over skills, visual BSL and the role of the CSW in examinations. Andy is also an NRCPD-registered interpreter. Andy is a co-founder of the Association of Communication Support Workers (ACSW), and a committee member of the National Association for Tertiary Education for Deaf people (NATED). He also sits on the Deaf Education Support Forum (DESF).


Maria Bailey

Maria has been working in deaf education since 1995 and has worked in various colleges in the North East of England. As the I-Sign Project Officer for Signature between 2009 and 2011, Maria’s responsibilities concerned researching and helping to develop a professional qualification and National Occupational Standards (NOS) for CSWs. Maria is an independent trainer, moderator and consultant for Signature’s Level 3 CSW qualification. Maria is a member of the Deaf Education Support Forum (DESF) and a committee member of the National Association for Tertiary Education for Deaf People (NATED). Maria continues to work as a CSW, on a part-time basis, for New College, Durham.

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