British Sign Language Plan

Summary Report 2021

A summary report of BSL Plan work carried out between 2019 - 2021.

The University of Edinburgh British Sign Language Executive Summary


Video: BSL Plan Executive Summary Report
BSL Officer translating the BSL Plan Executive Summary into BSL

1. Introduction

Following the British Sign Language (BSL) (Scotland) Act 2015, the University of Edinburgh (UoE) established a BSL Working Group in 2017 to produce UoE’s first ever BSL Plan detailing how services would be better accessed for those whose first or preferred language is BSL.

The UoE published its first-ever BSL Plan (British Sign Language Plan 2018-2024 | The University of Edinburgh) in May 2019, running for six years between 2018-2024. The BSL Plan has 10 Long-term Goals and 54 Actions. Alison Hendry was recruited in October 2019 as the BSL Development Officer (referred to as BSL Officer for the remainder of this document) to oversee the implementation of the BSL Plan throughout the University.

The BSL Implementation Group (previously the Working Group) supports the implementation of BSL Plan activities and demonstrates progress towards the vision that UoE should be an environment which is accessible for individuals whose first or preferred language is BSL. The group is convened by Dr Audrey Cameron, Chancellor’s Fellow, who herself is a Deaf BSL user. Membership of the group is comprised of colleagues from relevant departments across the University and meetings are held every quarter. The BSL Plan webpage (British Sign Language Plan | The University of Edinburgh) provides more information about the group and its remit.


2. Project Milestones

Translation of information (action points 2 / 20 / 53)

The BSL Officer worked with various departments – including Student Disability Service (SDS), Investigations team and Institute of Academic Development (IAD) – to identify pieces of information which were then translated for BSL users wishing to find out more about the University and its services. The BSL Officer has also provided support with translation (e.g. COVID19 updates for the University, the Principal’s Welcome Ceremony 2021 and Talbot Rice Gallery).

BSL Training for staff (action point 4)

Working with colleagues in Centre for Open Learning (COL), for academic year 2020/21 it was agreed that 18 spaces on the BSL Beginners course taught by Carri Neilson (Teaching Fellow, British Sign Language) would be offered to staff in priority teams as mentioned in the BSL Plan. In AY21/22 The majority of the first cohort progressed to Elementary level, and 2x BSL Beginner classes were offered to staff within the University; making a total of 39 staff signing up to participate in learning BSL.

BSL Awareness sessions rolled out to University staff (action point 7)

The BSL Officer developed BSL Awareness training to provide staff across the University with further information about BSL, covering different topics such as current legislation, the BSL Plan explaining the University’s duties, and how to effectively work with BSL users including students, staff and visitors as well as BSL/English interpreters. The sessions were delivered online via MS Teams and Zoom between April 2020 and December 2021; a total of 335 individuals engaged from across all 7 colleges / support and professional services.

Development of proposed Primary Education with BSL degree (action point 13)

Rachel O’Neill has prepared a proposal for a new undergraduate degree and liaised with Deaf community members. Scottish Government has applauded the development in their recent review of the National BSL plan. It is expected that the start date for deaf and hearing students will be September 2023.

Supporting students and prospective students who use BSL (action point 20)

The BSL Officer has been working closely with Disability Advisors within Student Disability Service (SDS) to ensure that BSL-using students and prospective students are properly supported throughout their student journey from start to end. This includes (but not limited to) looking at elements such as application process, support in their studies, accessing key information as well as issues that have arisen as a result of the COVID19 pandemic like face coverings and the necessity to provide high quality captioning and BSL/English interpretation for online classes and events. A sub working group has been established in which the BSL Officer and Disability Advisors meet regularly to discuss actions from the BSL Plan allocated to SDS.

Summer School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students (action point 24)

This had been organised for the purpose of providing Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students in their final years at school to access information about UoE using different communication support. This was delivered online via Zoom due to the COVID19 pandemic. BSL/English interpreters and live captioners were booked to work at this event which made it fully accessible for the DHH students. Six DHH students (2 from Scotland, 4 from England) attended the Summer School, which ran over two days as ½ days.

BSL/English interpretation for Graduations / University Events (action points 26 / 43)

The Edinburgh Culture Conversations was a 10-week series hosted by UoE running between July and September 2020 which provided BSL/English interpretation for all ten events, which were live streamed and recorded for individuals to view in their own time.

In June 2021, the Learning and Teaching Conference (LTC) was delivered online. The BSL Officer provided support to the committee through the process of organising BSL/English interpreters. This resulted in BSL/English interpretation being available all day for the first day (which was open to both internal and external colleagues), as well as the keynote speech on the third day (for internal staff and students).

During the pandemic, graduations were held virtually with a BSL/English interpreter available on screen thus providing full access for BSL users.

Other notable successes (including but not limited to):

  • BSL Network established for staff to practice BSL skills (action point 8)
  • Bilingualism Matters event interpreted into BSL (action point 12)
  • BSL translation of award-winning children’s storybook (action point 19)
  • There has been a lot of work around developing robust systems to provide captions for students who require them (action point 23)


3. Challenges faced

With 10 Long Term Goals and a total of 54 Actions, the BSL Plan covers every aspect of the University’s work. The BSL Officer has been working closely with colleagues / departments who have actions assigned to them from the BSL Plan, to inform and support them realise their remit. With the support of the BSL Working Group, the BSL Officer continues to oversee the progress of these actions.

Some of the actions within the BSL Plan were significantly impacted by the COVID19 pandemic in early 2020. As a result, some of the timescales have been altered to reflect the current status of the BSL Plan’s progress. The situation with COVID19 identified some gaps that were missing from the plan in relation to providing support for BSL users online.


4. Conclusion

Since the publication of the University of Edinburgh’s first-ever BSL Plan and the appointment of their BSL Officer, significant progress has been made in ensuring that UoE is more inclusive and supportive of BSL users across its services. This has been evidenced in provision of BSL within key information videos (e.g. Principal’s Welcome Ceremony for new and returning students), BSL/English interpretation at major events (e.g. graduation) and an increased awareness of engaging with BSL users from UoE staff and students.

The BSL Plan runs through to 2024 and there have been factors that have delayed implementation of the plan, with some actions either not wholly or partially completed. As a result, there is still a great deal of work to do. The BSL Implementation Group will work with the BSL Officer to consider the outstanding actions and take these forward in the coming months. Feedback will be collected from BSL users who use UoE’s services – as a member of staff, student or visitor – and use this information to review and refresh the BSL Plan where applicable.

It will take time to fully implement the BSL Plan and its actions throughout the University of Edinburgh and beyond; the progress to date would not have been possible without the support and hard work of UoE staff and students. Their contribution towards the BSL Plan actions is hugely appreciated as we continue to share the Scottish Government’s aim to make Scotland the best place for deaf BSL users to live, work, learn and visit.


5. Relevant links:

BSL Videos:

- Student Disability Service

- Complaints procedure

- Institute of Academic Development: Directive words handout


6. Detailed reports