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A history of CDS: the heritage that will be lost with closure

by on June 27th, 2013

The Centre for Deaf Studies has been active in the University of Bristol since 1978.

It has a policy of bilingualism in its work and teaching. As of June 2013 there are 14 staff.

Below is a general overview of the achievements of the Centre in the 35 years since it began.


1978: First funded research on sign language in the UK – examined Interpreter performance and sign language

1979: Convened the first national Workshop on Sign Language

1980: Publication of the first Coding Manual for British Sign Language

1980: Organised the first National Conference on Sign Language in the UK

1981: First University Certificate course in British Sign Language for professionals

1981: First Book collection of research in Sign Language and Deafness

1981: First International Conference on Sign Language, in the UK – first time interpreters contracted and prepared for a major meeting; first international meeting of sign language interpreters

1983: First EC funded research work to create an archive, which has now grown to over 40 sign languages

1984: Deaf Studies Trust set up as a charity to support research and development

1984: The term Deaf Studies used first in Bristol

1985: First textbook on British Sign Language – still in use

1985: Diploma in Social Science in Deaf Studies set up in the University of Bristol

1985: First International Deaf Researchers Workshop

1986: Formation of ISLA – International Sign Linguistics Association, Bristol HQ

1987: First extended training at University Certificate level for sign language interpreters (part-time)

1990: Access Initiative for Deaf Students set up in Bristol to support deaf students across the University (providing interpreters) – the first in Europe – later evolved into independent Access Unit

1990: First Full time training programme for sign language interpreters (2 year)

1992: First full-time training programme for deaf people taught in sign language at University level; first research Masters  by Deaf sign language user

1993: Diploma of Higher Education set up – the first undergraduate programme in the UK that focussed on Deaf Studies;  collaborative work in Moscow to create a multilingual school for Deaf children

1995: Family Centre for Deaf Children set up as an independent organisation for the parents of deaf children

1995-2000: CDS co-ordinates FORUM – a training partnership in 9 EU countries; training for sign language interpreters in Ireland, Portugal and Greece

1996: First UK deaf-led project based in Africa – in Northern Uganda – funded by Oxfam and Comic Relief

1997: First research project involving all 15 countries of the EU (and Norway and Iceland) directed by CDS

1999: First BSc & MSc in Deaf Studies; first Deaf PhD in Deaf Culture; New Linguistics textbook on BSL; Interpreter pathway (3 years) in BSc

2001: First Professorship focused only on Deaf Studies

2002:  The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, visits the Centre for Deaf Studies and is awarded an Honorary Degree by the University

2003: First book on Deafhood (Ladd)
Opening of Daily News service in BSL (

2004: First book on sign language poetry (Sutton-Spence)

2005: Set up of online resource on deaf awareness and sign language learning for hearing learners of BSL (

2007: Mobile sign – world’s first mobile phone sign language dictionary (

2008:  Thirty Years anniversary – longest established Centre in Europe; Deafstation over 4,000 registered users; Signstation over 12,000 registered users

2009:  Signstation reaches 15,000 registrations; First Applied Sign Linguistics conference

2010:  Signstation reaches over 20,000 registrations; promotion of Total Conversation solution for telecoms for Deaf people; First degree in Deafhood Studies

2011:  Large scale European Pilot project involving close work with police and fire service emergency control centres in five countries;  REACH112 relay service active in UK with access to 999.

2012:  SIgnstation reaches over 30,000 registrations; REACH112 has over 6,000 video communication calls per month;  report on access to justice adopted by Solicitors Regulation Authority as guidance for all solicitors in the UK

2013: Mobile sign app is downloaded by over 20,000 people; key report on Deaf people’s health to be published


Throughout this time, CDS has hosted visits by staff and students from all over the world and from a wide range of disciplines and has collaborated with researchers worldwide.

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