First Graduates from Scotland BSL degree course

The Herald: Scotland is setting the agenda for sign language provision internationally thanks to new graduates from the country’s first degree course on the subject.

More than a dozen new sign language interpreters have become the first to qualify after completing an MA in British Sign Language (BSL) at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

The 14 graduates will go towards stemming the extreme shortage of BSL interpreters across Scotland, which currently has only 70 interpreters for a community of
6,000 people.

A Masters degree in European sign language and a PhD on the subject have attracted both deaf and hearing students from across Europe, America and South Africa.

Graham Turner, chairman of Interpreting and Translation Studies, said: “We are very proud of our MA course, which attracted a full quota of 14 students in 2013, its first year.

“These graduates will now work across Scotland with deaf people who need translation services for everything from the most mundane to the most serious.”

BSL has been recognised as a minority language since March 2003 and was protected under equalities legislation by the Westminster parliament.

However, it was not until the passing of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill in September last year that BSL and deafblind tactile BSL were given the status of languages in their own right, on a par with Gaelic in Scotland.

In 2003, then First Minister Jack McConnell set the target of doubling the number of sign language interpreters, a target never achieved.

Carly Brownlie, Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI), Development Manager said: “It can’t be underestimated how important this degree is to the improvement of sign language provision in Scotland.

“Scotland has a comparable population size to Finland but it has more than 500 sign language interpreters and they count themselves short of interpreters. The deaf community in Finland is pushing for more while we have roughly 70.