Signs for the future - A major new international resource for researching deafness


The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) announces the award of funding for a significant new research centre - the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL). The centre, based at the UCL (University College London) Department of Human Communication Science, will see ESRC inject 4.5 million over an initial 5 year period into a study of deafness, linguistic systems and communication that will run over a 10 year programme.

The aim is to create a world class hub of excellence that will connect various fields of research in a new way. As such the centre will be a world-first in this area of research and will lead international collaborations. The ESRC funding award, to run from January 2006 to December 2015 (subject to a mid-term review) will support 12 new post -doctorate and post - graduate researchers in the first five years.

With Professor Bencie Woll as Director, and Co-Directors Gabriella Vigliocco and Dr Gary Morgan, of City University, DCAL will link a research programme ranging from neuroscience and linguistics to the deaf individual in the community. Changing the perception of deafness by the hearing community, and transferring communications techniques will be other aspects of the centre's role.

Professor Woll states: "The creation of the Centre places research with deaf people at the core of linguistic and psychological research. We will create new tools for assessing sign language and sign language development; describe the role of the face and gesture in language and develop our understanding of how language is processed by the brain. By studying deaf people's language we will be able to illuminate all aspects of human communication"

The centre will bring together previously disparate research in one multi-disciplinary project, and aims to influence and contribute to both scientific and social aspects of the research agenda. That agenda will focus on sign language, linguistics, psychology, and deaf communication through a series of thematically linked research projects.

The centre will contribute to academic debates as well as to policy and practice, through for example, publications in major journals and the development of a professional assessment tool. Every researcher will be expected to become fluent in British Sign Language (BSL).

Close access to neuro-imaging facilities in London and the ability to provide a broad coverage across different disciplines and groups of deaf people will be a core aspect to the excellence and capacity the centre will create. DCAL will operate independently from the new UCL Ear Institute - which will investigate the physiology of hearing impairment as a separate theme.

The DCAL work will be carried out in collaboration with other institutes and in partnerships with the major deaf organisations including the British Deaf Association, Royal Association for Deaf People, Royal National Institute for the Deaf, National Deaf Children's Society and the Deafness Research Trust. Partnerships will also be forged with government.

The British Deaf Association comments: "We at the British Deaf Association (BDA) are delighted to see this exciting initiative. We are pleased to see that this programme will actually study our language, set within the wider context of our own cultural values and identity as a unique cultural group. The results from this research will create an important platform of evidence for those who reject the notion of medical 'deafness', to enable a shift of focus from 'disability' to that of a diverse cultural and linguistic group."

This is an important point that the DCAL centre will include in its core operating ethos. To enhance this, the centre will also train scientists who are deaf themselves.

"Above all, the DCAL Centre will have an immediate effect on the landscape of deafness research. The centre will bring together separate strands of research and be a unique focus for the study of language and communication. Our funding really will be helping to change peoples lives," says ESRC Chief Executive Professor Ian Diamond.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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