On Saturday 23 February 2019, over 80 people came to York St John University ( (YSJU), in York, to watch four signing deaf academics present their research findings about deaf people in the workplace. The event was organised by Dr Dai O’Brien of YSJU, whose own research was funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education’s Newer Researcher’s Prize. All the presenters used BSL to present their findings, and the conference was streamed live to an international audience. The conference is now available to watch here.
The conference began with Dr Rachel Wicaksono from YSJU’s School of Languages and Linguistics welcoming the delegates for the day, and taking the opportunity to announce YSJU’s new Deaf Studies courses, which will begin in September 2019.
Delegates included deaf business owners, post-graduate students, academics and BSL/English interpreters. Dr Wicaksono also announced the formation of the YSJU research Centre for Language and Social Justice, which will be launched over the next few months.
For British Sign Language (BSL) translation please watch video below
Dr Dai O’Brien started the presentations, with a report on his SRHE funded project which focused on the experiences of signing deaf academics working in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). While his research focused specifically on academics, the lessons of the project could be equally applied to any workplace in which deaf people are in the minority. Dai briefly explained the methods he used, walking interviews and eco-maps, pointing out the visual nature of each made them very suitable for use with signing deaf people and resulted in very rich, meaningful data. His findings were analysed using Lefebvrian principles of space and time, which helped show how deaf academics were able to create new deaf-centric spaces within the HEIs in which they worked. He wound up his presentation by suggesting a few practical ideas that could help to make workplaces more accessible to deaf people and took some questions from the audience.
After a short break, Dr Nicola Nunn] from the University of Central Lancashire presented findings from her PhD research, entitled ‘Workplace conflict: attitudinal barriers and structural issues’. Her focus was on workplaces in which both deaf and hearing staff know BSL, and the possible conflicts that still persist within those workplaces. Many would assume that all staff having a common language would prevent most workplace conflicts between deaf and hearing people, but Nicola showed that attitudinal barriers still persist. Nicola was able to bring some audience participation to the room by asking people to discuss in groups their own experience of working in signing environments. This was a really useful and interesting opportunity to share experiences and insights into working practice.
Lunchtime was a good opportunity for conference delegates to mix and network with one another, catching up with old friends and colleagues and making new connections.
After lunch, Mette Sommer Lindsay from Heriot-Watt University presented her ongoing PhD research, in which she looks at deaf-led businesses both in the UK and in Denmark. Mette asked the interesting question of how do deaf people perform in the workplace. She also outlined some of the push/pull factors that she had found that motivated deaf people in setting up their own businesses. One push factor was to escape the discrimination they may have experienced in previous workplaces, and an example of a pull factor was the opportunity to set up a workplace environment they could define for themselves. Mette, like Nicola, used a short break in her presentation to give the audience an opportunity to discuss their own experiences of employment and what sort of push/pull factors would drive people to set themselves up in self-employment.
The final presentation of the day was from Dr Audrey Cameron, from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. Her presentation about the Designs project showed the sort of barriers that deaf people can face in their search for jobs, and in job interviews themselves. Audrey showed an illuminating video of the performance of a BSL/English interpreter in a job interview in which the interpreter had had no preparation time with the deaf person, and contrasted it to the same job interview when the interpreter had time with the deaf person to prepare. This highlighted some of the issues that deaf people face even when interpreters are present.
The day was rounded off with a panel question and answer session, in which all four of the deaf academics took and answered questions from the audience. These questions varied from discussions about research methods, to practical advice about how to make sure deaf people get the opportunity to contribute in their workplace, to the difficulty of separating language from culture and making sure that research is objective.
Dr Audrey Cameron commented “I found the conference to be very useful because I learnt a lot from other research carried out in the field of deaf employment. It will help my own work – looking through different lenses. We, researchers, had the opportunity to share our work with the deaf community and interpreters and the opportunity to listen to their own experiences. It was an enjoyable day.”
Dr Nicola Nunn said “The conference was really enjoyable and a great opportunity to network and gain an insight into a number of issues from various different perspectives. It was also lovely to see such a great mixture of Deaf Professionals, Interpreters, Members of the Community and so many new and old faces.”
Dr Dai O’Brien noted that “With over 120 people registered to attend, and almost 100 actually turning up on the day, this shows there is a definite desire to see more research exploring deaf people’s experiences of employment. I’m grateful to the SRHE for their funding to help make this research happen, and hopefully York St John University will host more similar events soon.”
Do you have experiences of working in a hearing environment and the barriers you faced? Do you work in a signing environment and have a perspective on the barriers that still exist, or even new barriers that are created? Have you had experiences of interviews going well or badly depending on the type and quality of the interpreting support? We would love to hear from you!