BLOG: Celebrating 25 years of sign language interpreter education

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This month, we’re celebrating 25 years of success in sign language interpreter education and training at the University of Wolverhampton. The aim back in the 1990s was to “broaden opportunities for Deaf people, facilitate Deaf people’s access to Higher Education and raise Deaf awareness within all areas of society and work”. 

Here Sarah Bown, Senior Lecturer, Interpreting BSL/English, reflects on what the team has achieved over the 25 years and what makes the course at Wolverhampton so special.

In 1991, Professor Megan Lawton established the Visual Language Centre within the School of Languages, proposing that British Sign Language (BSL) should be seen as a language in its own right.  The Communication Support Unit to support Deaf students at the University followed, and in 1993 the BA (hons) Interpreting BSL/English programme was launched.

With its outstanding and unparalleled success, it has come to be the longest running higher education provider of sign language interpreter education and training in the UK. 

The staff team, many of whom are the original and early members of the subject, comprise of deaf and hearing staff and demonstrate the highest concentration and level of professional qualification and recognition as interpreters, deaf translators, linguists, and the first programme to have a member with the prestigious International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) accreditation.  All vigorously disseminate the pioneering teaching, learning and research carried out, regionally, nationally and internationally. 

On 18 March 2003, the Government issued a formal statement recognising BSL as a language in its own right and promising to invest £1million in a range of initiatives to support this.

Over the years, the subject has flourished and engaged in numerous successful initiatives and projects such as:

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  • Department of Work & Pensions consortium bid for the recognition of sign language and development of sign language teaching
  • Aim Higher, Modern Apprenticeships & Pathfinder funded projects for sign language in occupational settings
  • The forerunner campaigning for BSL as a GCSE subject (now a national project) and establishment of the regional delivery of Sign in School
  • Deaffest, the international film festival
  • EU Parliament recognition for contribution to standard setting for interpreter education at HE level across Europe
  • EU funded Sign Media
  • Joint initiative between the subject and Healthwatch looking at Deaf and Hard of Hearing Peoples’ Access to Heath and Social Care services in Wolverhampton, to name but a few.

The outstanding educational opportunities provided have resulted year on year in excellent levels of professional recognition and graduate employability – we’ve seen a 100% employment rate for students from the last five years of the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey.  Our students are to be seen working nationally and internationally between deaf and hearing communities across all sectors of society. There is profound recognition of the value of this programme and the very significant impact it makes on the lives and opportunities for students, deaf people and the wider community they in turn engage with and serve.

In 2014, the course was accredited at the highest level of recognition – Registered Sign Language Interpreter Status (RSLI) by the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind people (NRCPD) – the first BA route in the UK to achieve this endorsement.  

September 2018, sees the launch of our MA in Interpreting which includes bespoke interpreting training in health, social care and legal settings and is open to both hearing interpreters and deaf translators.

We are so proud of what our staff team, our students and our graduates have achieved over the past 25 years, and are excited about a bright future ahead. 

Further details about Deaf Studies and Interpreting BSL/English

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