Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol

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The Centre for Deaf Studies was 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 claimed 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 was at the forefront in establishing the disciplines of deaf studies and Deafhood. It used British Sign Language (BSL), had 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. 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 was being wound down by the University, by means of a program of redundances and staff attrition. It survives into 2014 only because the Professor of Deaf Studies has not retired.[4]


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][5] In 1980, the centre produced the first coding manual for BSL, followed by the first textbook on the language in 1985.[5] 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.[5]

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.[5] 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.[6][7]


Research at the Centre fell 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.[8] An audio-visual phone went on trial with the Avon and Somerset Police.[9]

Some previous contributions included:

  • Genetics, Power and Deafhood: Identifying Opposition to Eugenicist Policies. Dr. Paddy Ladd
  • REACH112: REsponding to All Citizens needing Help. Professor Jim Kyle
  • British Sign Language Learner Corpus. Professor Jim Kyle
  • Signing first: evaluation of I-Sign: the BSL Pilot project. Dr.Sarah Batterbury
  • Summary: Signing first: evaluation of I-Sign: the BSL Pilot project. Professor Jim Kyle
  • PaLM. Sandra Smith
  • Signstation. Professor Jim Kyle
  • SignAware (employment profile of Deaf people). Professor Jim Kyle
  • Deaf Folklore. Rachel Sutton-Spence
  • Deafhood. Dr. Paddy Ladd
  • Wisdom (3G and WLAN technologies for sign language communication).Professor Jim Kyle, Lorna Allsop
  • Vocational Guidance Standard Model (VOGS). Professor Jim Kyle
  • Sign Poetry. Rachel Sutton-Spence
  • Look Here: Visual Attention in developing a CODEC for video communication.Professor Jim Kyle
  • Seeing through New Eyes. Dr. Paddy Ladd
  • Eye Gaze in sign communication. Professor Jim Kyle, Lorna Allsop
  • Sign Language Acquisition. Professor Jim Kyle, Sandra Smith
  • Look Here: Visual Attention in developing a codec for video communication.

Courses and services[edit]

The Centre was 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.[5]

Bristol was one of a handful of universities in the UK to offer an undergraduate degree in deaf studies.[10] The modular BSc degree could be studied over three years full-time or six years part-time; students learned BSL, and the course had 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.[11] 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.[4] There were accusations that her Faculty saved other units only by sacrificing the CDS. The shutdown of the programme was successful and the last students from the undergraduate degree graduated in 2013.

The Centre offered until recently taught postgraduate courses: a certificate and diploma in deaf studies, and an MSc in Deaf Studies.[12][13] While the Masters was popular, the University shut it down from 2013. Under the proposals put to them by the University it would have been taught by three staff demoted to part-time teaching roles; CDS rejected this model as impossible, and demeaning. There was also a small MPhil/PhD programme and the University tried to redeploy these students to other supervisors.[4][14]

The Centre also offered a range of short courses, including BSL, BSL interpreting and Deafhood studies.[15][16][17]

Deafstation, a daily news service in BSL, is run by the centre.[18]


As of 2012, the Centre's director was Sandra Smith. The Harry Crook Professor in Deaf Studies was Jim Kyle, who has been at Bristol for over 20 years and is a leading expert on Deaf policy. Other researchers included a Reader, Dr Paddy Ladd, a lecturer, Dr Sarah Batterbury, and several researchers.[19] 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. all accepted redundancy under severe pressure, except Prof. Kyle. The Deaf community rightly accused Bristol University of trying to close the Centre through staff attrition; by shutting the undergraduate degree, they were able to claim that few staff were needed for teaching.[4] Deaf studies research could not continue meaningfully.


The University management's plan was successful and the CDS stopped admitting students in 2013, effectively closing its doors in that year since it lacked any staff except Prof. Kyle. University Council passed a resolution with only a vote of dissent. A big party for alumni and supporters was held in the summer of 2013. It later emerged that the CDS building will be redeployed immediately for other purposes. A Centre website is being kept going until Professor Kyle retires.[20]


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

External links[edit]