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Translating the Deaf Self: understanding the impact of mediation

Duration of the project

18 months project (January 2015 - June 2016)

Funding body

Members of the project

Name Role
Professor Jemina Napier (Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh) Principal investigator
Professor Alys Young Principal investigator
Rosemary Oram Co-investigator
Robert Skinner (Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh) Research associate

About the project

Translating the Deaf Self: understanding the impact of mediation


The BSL/English bilingual team, both deaf and hearing researchers, has been awarded £200,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to explore the cultural and social impact of translation on Deaf people when communicating through a sign language interpreter, as a means of being understood and to participate in hearing society.

They will look at how translation shapes and projects Deaf culture and what impact it has on Deaf people’s own identity, achievement and well-being.

Most people rarely, if ever, have the experience of being interpreted or translated – it is not a permanent, everyday experience for most. For a significant number of Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users, interpretation and translation is normally a large part of everyday life when communicating within society. The effects of this process on how Deaf people are perceived by others and in turn how they perceive themselves, is to be investigated by the team. In common knowledge the users are seen to be ‘disabled’ as opposed to having their own culture and language.  

To date the research conducted on translation and identity has focused primarily on the identity of the translator and not the user. This research has not exclusively explored or considered the position of the Deaf person who is being translated.

The project is funded under the Translating Cultures Theme. The project team will be responsible for leading this research, with an in-depth exploration of how Deaf culture and its language are being perceived during the interpretation / translation process. This will be supported through collaborations with Action Deafness, a Deaf Community organisation based in Leicester, and also a Deaf-led video production company AC2.Com.

The results of this unique study will inform theories on translation, identity and well-being, and will trial a new methodology for conducting research with visual languages. The results will benefit parents of deaf children, sign language interpreters, and hearing people who work with Deaf sign language users, as well as Deaf people themselves.

Craig Crowley, Chief Executive Officer at Action Deafness, added, “Action Deafness is proud to be among the community partners assisting with the 'Translating the Deaf Self' project. We are delighted with this funding from AHRC as this will help pave the way forward for recognising the cultural identity of Deaf people through sign language."

How can you help?

The research team would like to work with a number of different groups (see below) to take part in a discussion about their experiences of access, interpreting and translation and what their views on these are. For more information about the groups, please click below.

Group 1: Community Participatory Group

Community Participatory Group

For those who are taking part in the Community Participatory Group (by arrangement through Action Deafness), please see below for more information.

Participant Information Sheet

Group 1a: Community Participatory Group (Deaf Professionals)

Group 2a: hearing parents of deaf children

Group 2b: hearing sign language interpreters

Group 2c: hearing work colleagues of Deaf BSL users

Group 2d: Deaf people who prefer to speak for themselves but will still use interpreters to understand others

If you would like to take part in one of our focus groups and share your experiences, you may contact Rosemary Oram or Robert Skinner by email or text.