UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


2022 DCAL Christmas Newsletter

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Another year has flown by and at DCAL we are trying to adapt back to ‘pre-covid’ ways of working. COVID brought challenges, but it also pushed forward some positive changes too. Like everyone, we are now much more used to having online talks from remote presenters. It has been great to have DCAL presentations this year from around the world.

This year has also been a fantastic year for BSL and the representation of deaf people in the media. This summer the BSL Act was passed by Parliament. DCAL staff and students were delighted to join so many people on sunny days in the Spring in Trafalgar Square to campaign for this and then to celebrate the approval of the Act. This of course is just one step in ensuring greater access to BSL for deaf people.  There is much work to be done and we hope that research we conduct at DCAL can contribute towards this. We have selected a summary of some of the DCAL highlights from this year for you. We hope you enjoy learning more about what we have been up to. Thank you, from all of us, for your support. We wish you a very happy Christmas and we hope 2023 will be happy and healthy for all.


Research Update

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We currently have three exciting projects running at DCAL that investigate the relationship between language and literacy development. One study looks at language comprehension in deaf children and is one of the largest research projects that involves deaf children here at DCAL. The goals of the project are to adapt a comprehension task from American Sign Language into British Sign Language (BSL) and to explore the effects of BSL vocabulary and BSL syntax toward deaf children’s comprehension of BSL. For this study, we will need 300 deaf children between age 4 and 18 years old so if you work at a school, know of resource base schools with deaf children, or are a parent/caregiver of a deaf child, do get in touch with Patrick Rosenburg and Kate Rowley at p.rosenburg@ucl.ac.uk. For more information, see our Development Research Page.

In another study, we are investigating the relationship between visual communication, more broadly, and reading. This study is looking at the relationship between speechreading (lipreading) skills / BSL skills /  Fingerspelling skills and later reading development. We have already visited twenty 4-year-olds and look forward to involve many more in the project. We are currently recruiting deaf children who started in reception in 2022, or will start in 2023 or 2024. We will then visit the children, at home or at school, six times over 3 years in order to follow their language and literacy progress.  For more information about this project please contact Tyron Woolfe: visualcr@ucl.ac.uk.

The third study is a large-scale longitudinal study looking at how preschool language skills relate to later reading development in deaf and hearing children. We started this project back in 2019 but we have not been able to see children for two years due to COVID. We’ve been very busy this year back out in schools visiting all of the children again. It was lovely to see everyone again. We have almost 190 deaf and hearing children taking part. We have been following them since preschool when they were age 3 or 4 years old and many are now 7 or 8 years old.  The team is busy working through lots of data, and we are excited to share our findings with you soon. You can find out more about the Preschool Language and Literacy study and our findings at www.ladder-lab.com. A big thank you to all the teachers and children for supporting this project!

Together these three research projects will offer new insights into the development of language (both spoken and signed) and reading skills in deaf children. One key prediction across all studies is that early language skills are vital for later reading success. We anticipate that these studies will therefore lend support to the call for earlier language support for deaf children and their parents. You can find out more about these projects on our here.


Deaf Brain

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Our research on the deaf brain was featured on the cover of Brain, one of the most prestigious neuroscience journals.

In our new paper we found that regions of the brain that in hearing people are involved in understanding sounds have different roles in deaf people. We found that these regions in deaf people are involved in higher-order cognitive functions, which are the mental processes that allow people to learn and interact with the world. We also found that language skills, either in sign or spoken language, predict performance in cognitive tasks. This highlights the importance of early access to language for the development of cognitive skills, independently of the modality of the language. The art on the cover is by artist Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq. Rubbena is an artist and facilitator whose work concerns culture and deaf identity. In this work she asks ‘Why is it that given the same information, we perceive things differently?’. This collaboration is a great example of science and art coinciding to ask similar questions from different approaches.


Sign Language Linguistics Research

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This year we had several publications in sign linguistics, including a paper on sociolinguistic variation in mouthing in the BSL Corpus, and a chapter on the future of sign language corpora in a new edited volume on sign language corpora from Gallaudet University Press.  We have continued work on several sign linguistics projects including writing up papers on sign sentence types, questions, and negation in BSL, and collecting data for a project on sign order for an ESRC funded project on language evolution. In sign language technology, we published a conference paper on tools for automatically identifying sign boundaries. With colleagues from University of Surrey and Oxford, we organised a workshop on Sign Language Recognition Translation and Production. We also continue to work on EASIER, a large EU project on automatic translation processes for European sign languages with partners around Europe including the European Union of the Deaf.


DCAL Activities

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On 9th November we held a Festschrift symposium to celebrate the academic career of Prof. Bencie Woll, DCAL’s founding Director. Current and past colleagues discussed Bencie’s legacy across sociolinguistics, neuroscience and psychology, as well as her efforts to promote changes in public policy, public engagement and capacity building. Tributes celebrating her multidisciplinary long-lasting impact came from her collaborators from around the world, who joined in person and online. To honour Bencie’s scientific and social legacy, we have started a fundraiser for the ‘Bencie Woll Award’ for early career researchers in sign languages. You can contribute to this initiative. It was a wonderful day of celebration and togetherness! If you missed this event, a recording of the event will be available on our website soon.

Congratulations Bencie on your amazing career and achievements which continue to amaze! At the moment Bencie is working with the producers of Sign 2 Win, the gameshow on BSL Zone, to develop some new ideas for competitions on the next series.  Watch out for developments!



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Another area that Bencie is working is the BSL GCSE. She is currently a member of the working group (together with Robert Adam) developing the BSL GCSE curriculum for England. Work was very delayed because of Covid but it’s now expected that the curriculum will go out for consultation in January with the aim of the course starting in schools in 2025. At the same time, Bencie been working with the Welsh government to develop the BSL Curriculum for Wales. There are a lot of associated resources and training that will be needed to support a BSL GCSE: the need to train deaf teachers of BSL for work in schools, the development of textbooks, videos and guides for teachers and learners


Memorial event for Frances Elton

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We were saddened by the passing of Frances Elton earlier this year. Frances worked at DCAL for many years. Frances had a long career in research and teaching and her work influenced a great many people. We will be holding a memorial event in honour of Frances to celebrate her life’s work. This will be on Saturday 21st January from 2pm to 5.30pm. There will be various speakers and we will be doing a premier showing of the final version of ‘Lightwave’, a film developed by Rubbena Aurengzeb-Tariq and Prof. Bencie Woll, see: https://www.rubbena.com/lightwave-trellis-2020


Widening Participation, Engagement and Community Projects

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Discover UCL for deaf and hard of hearing Yr 11 & 12 students ran in August 2022 and celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Discover UCL was led by Dr. Manjula Patrick and was held online with interactive group sessions to create deaf awareness posters followed by a 1 day in person event at UCL with ice-breakers, a student tour of UCL, and a Q&A session with deaf role models. In the evening there was a reception to celebrate the 10th anniversary Discover UCL with several Discover UCL alumni., It was great to see them all doing so well! Next year we hope to hold more in-person sessions. Get in touch if you want to find out more.


This year the DCAL stall went back on the road and visited the Deaffest, City Lit, BATOD conference and the BDA AGM. Dr. Tyron Woolfe said “It was lovely to meet so many people visiting our DCAL stall. People asked questions and we were happy to share information. We also know people loved our materials too. It was also good to meet young people keen to know about research careers too.” We hope to see you all again next year on the road and if you would like the DCAL stall to visit your event too, please get in touch.

We continue to add to our growing collection of research summaries - do check out DCAL’s Youtube page to see summaries on language attitudes, the effect of visual language in the brain, ghostwriting and many more.


Resources for research and for the community

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We have a range of resources from all of our research projects and findings. The DCAL Research Data Archive is a publicly available data archive of our studies of language, communication and cognition. Browse the data from our unique projects here and learn more about our findings!


The British Sign Language (BSL) Corpus is a publicly accessible, on-line record of BSL used by Deaf people in the UK. It’s a collection of video clips showing Deaf people using BSL. You can also explore BSL SignBank, which has approximately 2500 BSL signs developed from the BSL Corpus. In other words, BSL signs directly from the deaf community!

For qualified professionals and researchers working with deaf children and adults, the DCAL Assessment Portal hosts eight language and cognition assessments. These assessments can be used to assess language abilities and language development in deaf adults and children and assess deaf signers where there are concerns about language impairment, brain injury, brain disease, stroke or dementia. Get in touch for further information.

We continue offering a suite of Deaf Awareness online courses that aim to help health professionals better understand the communication needs of D/deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) people. These are accredited for CPD by professional bodies (e.g., the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Nursing).

Finally, make sure you check out our free Online Deaf Awareness Training for Teachers. It covers topics such as the importance of deaf awareness in the classroom setting, different perspectives of deafness, strategies for communicating with deaf pupils, and how to create a deaf-supportive learning environment.


Studying at DCAL

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Last year, degree level teaching was challenging with blended learning (some sessions online, some in person). This year we are mostly back face to face teaching which is a relief! We still offer degree-level modules ‘Deafness, Cognition and Language’, ‘Sign Language Linguistics’, ‘Deaf Culture’ and modules on interpreting and on BSL.
For postgraduate students, we still offer the MSc in Language Sciences with specialisation in Sign Language and Deaf Studies, which attracts students from around the world. This year we are excited to have a new addition to our teaching portfolio – i.e. contributions (lectures and case studies about language and cognition in deaf people, delivered by Dr. Kate Rowley) on the newly established BSc in Audiology, run by the UCL Ear Institute. Find out more about the courses we offer on our website.


Changes to the Professional Services Team

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There have been lots of changes to the DCAL Professional Services team this year. We said farewell to Hannah Philips-Haynes, who moved back to New Zealand. Manjula Patrick also left DCAL but didn’t make such a huge move globally! After 16 years as DCAL Executive Officer, Manjula Patrick moved to a central UCL role, focusing on reducing the academic awarding gap between different groups of students. Manjula did fantastic work at DCAL creating online deaf awareness courses; developing summer schools for deaf Yr 12 students to learn about life at university and developing summer schools for overseas students to come to UCL to learn BSL. We wish Manjula well in her new role. We are also delighted to welcome Indie Beedie as the new DCAL Executive Officer!


We are also delighted to welcome back Sannah Gulamani from maternity leave. Sannah’s roles now include being Reasonable Adjustment Officer and the Impact and Communications Officer. Bree McDougall covered for Sannah whilst she was on maternity leave. It was great to have Bree as part of the team if only for a short time. Thank you Bree!


Happy Christmas from all of us at DCAL!

DCAL Team wishing everyone a happy christmas

We hope you enjoyed reading our highlights. If you want to know any more about any of these topics, please do contact us.

Thank you for all of your support and interest in our work over 2022. We look forward to working together in 2023!