Scotland – SASLI

Country Report Scotland


General Population: 5 million

Size: 78,772km squared

Deaf people

National Association of the Deaf: British Deaf Association (BDA)

How many Deaf people?

No precise information either on the numbers of deaf people or on the number of BSL users. There are working estimates. It is estimated that there are 5,000 deaf people in Scotland. According to the BDA, British Sign Language (BSL) is the first or preferred language of nearly 250,000 people in the UK.


Legislation, which protects the rights of Deaf people under the law in Scotland, is provided by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA Scotland – amended 2005). This piece of legislation is not devolved, which means that the Parliament in London is responsible for it through a UK wide organisation called the Disability Rights Commission.

The Disability Rights Commission will be amalgamated with the Commission for Racial Equality in October 2007 and the new Equalities Commission will be responsible for all six of the current equalities strands: Disability, Race, Age, Religion and Belief, Gender and Sexual orientation.

Recent consultations from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh have involved “A Language Strategy for Scotland” and “Scotland’s Culture Bill”, so some Deaf organisations have taken the opportunity to raise the view that perhaps BSL and Linguistic Access issues would be better legislated for under culture and ethnicity laws rather than disability legislation.

Education for Deaf pupils in Scotland

As seems to be the case across Europe, mainstream inclusion is affecting all areas of specialist education and many special schools in Scotland, including schools for the Deaf, are closing. More and more deaf pupils are being supported in units attached to mainstream schools in both primary and secondary schools. Deaf schools that were traditionally important centres for the development of BSL, as well as Deaf Identity and Culture, are losing pupils and their rolls are dropping.

Sign Language

On 18 March 2003, the government announced their formal recognition of BSL as a language in the UK but it does not have legal protection.

 Spoken Language(s)

The official language is English, although Gaelic is spoken, primarily in the North and West of Scotland.

 Sign Language Interpreters

How many interpreters?

SASLI holds the public register of BSL/English Interpreters for Scotland. There are currently 51 registered British Sign Language/English interpreters and 8 Associates.

SASLI was set up in January 1981, initially as a sub-committee of the Scottish Council on Deafness (known as the Scottish Association for the Deaf at the time). It became an independent organisation in May 1982.

 How many members?

64 altogether (51 Registered Members, 8 Associate Members and 5 Co-opted Members)

 Details of Interpreter Training

In Scotland, there is only one training institution that provides certificated training in BSL/ English Interpreting and this is a Graduate Diploma at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. This course evolved out of a partnership with SASLI, a pilot of the first stage of a certificate course was launched in 1997. It was revised in October of 2007 into a Graduate Diploma. It is a 9-module programme and is studied part time over a two-year period. The Diploma is rated at 15 Scotcat credit points or at SCQF level 10.

Details of Interpreter Testing/Assessment and Accreditation/Certification

SASLI has developed a new Supervision and Assessment Program for all Associate Members of SASLI. Associate members are mostly graduates from Heriot Watt University. They must achieve an average of a level B in the second year modules in BSL and interpreting skills. Other applicants are considered if they have approved prior learning of an equivalent level and are given a skills test and interview. The panel is composed of an Interpreter Assessor, Deaf Assessor and a member of the Executive Committee. Associates go through a six month period of mentoring before going through formal assessments. These are based on the core competencies outlined in the National Interpreting Standards as developed by CILT (the National Centre for Languages). We are investigating the possibility of getting this programme certificated and accredited as a Professional Development Award. All Registered Interpreters are required to undertake Continuing Professional Development and the first cohort began in April 2006. The CPD cycle runs over a three year period and members have to undertake minimum recommended numbers of hours of formal training, peer reflection and self directed learning.

 Important events since 2005

In 2005, SASLI received funding to oversee the delivery of a Graduate Diploma in Teaching BSL Tutors course at Heriot Watt, which is leading the way for the future of BSL Teachers in Scotland.

It is believed that Helga McGilp, a British Sign Language (BSL) user, is the first Deaf Director of an interpreting association in the world, which is ground breaking for the Deaf community. As a consumer of interpreting services, Helga is aware of the skills and standards that are required.

SASLI received funding from the Scottish Executive (the government in Scotland) to relocate our office from Edinburgh to Glasgow and appoint four new staff in 2006/07: Helga McGilp Director; Marion Fletcher, Policy Advisor; Ann Davis Training and Development Officer and Geraldine O’Neill, Administration and Information Officer.

Goals for the future

2007 promises to be a very special year for the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI), especially when we celebrate their 25th anniversary in October.

Increasing membership of the professional body is a major target. By 2010, SASLI aspires to have a membership of over 100 individuals, potentially offering two different packages of benefits, and to explore having a category of membership that includes students. As part of developing the creditability, profile and recognition of the BSL/English interpreting profession by the wider public, SASLI will also build its association with other related and developing professional communication services, their professionals and their professional bodies – for example, deafblind communicators, note-takers, lip-speakers, translators and communication support workers.

SASLI intends to make changes in its governance, management and organisation to strengthen its capacity to take its work forward over the next few years.

We hope to be able to share our resources with colleagues overseas. Standards set in Scotland by SASLI will reflect and keep pace with developments happening elsewhere in the UK and worldwide.