Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol

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The Centre for Deaf Studies is a department of the University of Bristol, England, in the field of deaf studies, which it defines as the study of the "language, community and culture of Deaf people".[1] Established in 1978, the centre claims to be the first higher educational Institute in Europe "to concentrate solely on research and education that aims to benefit the Deaf community".[2] The Centre has been at the forefront of establishing the disciplines of deaf studies and Deafhood. It uses British Sign Language (BSL), has a policy of bilingual communication in BSL and English, and employed a majority of Deaf teaching staff.[2][3]

The Centre offered taught BSc and MSc courses, as well as research degrees at MPhil and PhD level. The centre also runs Deafstation, a daily news service in BSL. Bristol University announced plans to close the BSc course in May 2010 after a long campaign by the centre's supporters and staff failed to save it.[4] By 2013 the Centre is being wound down by the University, by means of a program of redundances and staff attrition. It is unlikely to survive into 2014. [5]


The Centre was founded in 1978. Early research into the acquisition and usage of BSL was the first funded research into the topic in the UK.[2][6] In 1980, the centre produced the first coding manual for BSL, followed by the first textbook on the language in 1985.[6] In 1980, the Centre ran the first National Conference on Sign Language in the UK, and the following year it hosted the first International Conference on Sign Language to be held in the UK. It also organised the first International Deaf Researchers Workshop in 1985.[6]

In 1984, the centre coined the term "deaf studies", and in 2001, it established the first professorship in the discipline. Also in 2001, it employed a Deaf director, the first time that the head of a European academic centre had been Deaf.[6] In 2003, the book Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, by the centre's researcher Paddy Ladd, popularised the term "Deafhood", which Ladd had coined in 1990.[7][8]

The Centre has also been an innovator in education. In 1981, it offered the first university-level certificate course in BSL for professionals. In 1985, it started a diploma course, social science in deaf studies. This was followed in 1987 by a part-time course in sign language interpretation, which became full-time in 1990. In 1992, the Centre established the earliest full-time, university-level training programme for Deaf people to be taught in sign language. In 1993, a Diploma of Higher Education was established, the earliest undergraduate course on deaf studies in the UK, and in 1999, the first BSc and MSc in deaf studies followed.[6]


Research at the centre has fallen into five areas: the language, linguistics and literature of sign language; acquisition of sign language; community and culture, known as "Deafhood"; cognition and psychology; and the applications of technology, such as videotelephony and e-learning.[9] One ongoing project is an audio-visual phone which, as of 2010, is on trial by the Avon and Somerset Police.[10] From 2013, the research active staff have diminished in number and it is anticipated that there will be little research capacity left in the centre.

Courses and services[edit]

Bristol was one of a handful of universities in the UK to offer an undergraduate degree in deaf studies.[11] The modular BSc degree could be studied over three years full-time or six years part-time; students learned BSL, and the course has a focus on sign linguistics.[1] In May 2010, the university announced plans to close the undergraduate course as part of a drive to save £15 million.[12] The campaign against this focussed on the lack of justice in targeting staff and students with particular needs, and the aggressiveness of the University's approach to the CDS, led by the Dean, Dr Judith Squires.[13] The shutdown of the programme was successful and the last students from the undergraduate degree graduated in 2012 or will graduate in 2013.

The Centre offered until recently taught postgraduate courses: a certificate and diploma in deaf studies, and an MSc in deaf studies.[14][15] While the Masters is still popular, from 2013, it is no longer admitting students. Under the proposals put to them by the University it would have been taught by three staff demoted to part-time teaching roles. There is also a small MPhil/PhD programme and the University is actively trying to redeploy these students to other supervisors.[16][17]

The Centre also offered a range of short courses, including BSL, BSL interpreting and Deafhood studies.[18][19][20]

Deafstation, a daily news service in BSL, is run by the centre.[21]


As of 2012, the Centre's director was Sandra Smith. The Harry Crook Professor in Deaf Studies is Jim Kyle, who has been at Bristol for over 20 years and is a leading expert on Deaf policy. Other researchers include a Reader, Dr Paddy Ladd, a lecturer, Dr Sarah Batterbury and several researchers.[22] As of 2010, the majority of teaching staff were Deaf.[3] In late 2012, the academic staff were offered part-time contracts only, totalling only three to continue masters level teaching, or redundancy to take effect in 2013. It is thought in the Deaf community that this is part of a plan by Bristol University to finally close the Centre in the near future; by shutting the undergraduate degree, they were able to claim that few staff are needed for teaching, and this will mean no critical mass of staff.[4] Deaf studies research could not continue meaningfully under the current proposals.


  1. ^ a b University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: BSc in Deaf Studies (accessed 12 May 2010)
  2. ^ a b c University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Story of the Centre (accessed 12 May 2010)
  3. ^ a b University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: About the Centre (accessed 12 May 2010)
  4. ^ a b http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/
  5. ^ http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/
  6. ^ a b c d e University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: CDS History (accessed 12 May 2010)
  7. ^ Ladd P. Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, p. xviii (Multilingual Matters; 2003) (ISBN 1-85359-546-2)
  8. ^ Snider B. A Global View. Gallaudet Today Summer 1993: 28–31 (accessed 12 May 2010)
  9. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Research (accessed 12 May 2010)
  10. ^ BBC News: Avon and Somerset Police trial new audio-visual phone (8 May 2010) (accessed 14 May 2010)
  11. ^ Atherton M. Deaf studies. Independent (1 February 2008) (accessed 12 May 2010)
  12. ^ Staff and students turned out in force to protest at Bristol University's plan to cut deaf studies. Bristol Evening Post (11 May 2010) (accessed 12 May 2010)
  13. ^ http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/
  14. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Language Admissions Policy (accessed 12 May 2010)
  15. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: MSc in Deafhood Studies (accessed 12 May 2010)
  16. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Higher degrees by research MPhil/PhD (accessed 12 May 2010)
  17. ^ http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/
  18. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Courses for the public (accessed 12 May 2010)
  19. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Short courses in British Sign Language Interpreting now available (accessed 12 May 2010)
  20. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Short courses in Deafhood Studies now available (accessed 12 May 2010)
  21. ^ Deafstation (accessed 12 May 2010)
  22. ^ University of Bristol: Centre for Deaf Studies: Staff (accessed 12 May 2010)

External links[edit]