Clark Denmark remembers...
Clark Denmark remembers: Sign Language Teaching in the UK. Interview by Luigi Lerose
When did Deaf people begin to teach BSL in the UK?
Before answering when deaf people started teaching BSL in the UK let me give a historical context going further back. There had been teaching of BSL but it had not been by deaf people but rather by hearing people.
Almost always the teacher was someone who worked for the church. Historically Deaf clubs in the UK have been run by hearing members of the clergy. That said they were very proficient sign language users. They were so proficient users of the language that if you didn’t know already it would be very difficult to identify whether they were hearing or Deaf based on their use of the language. But deaf people were stopped from running their own Deaf clubs by them.
When did the thinking change and Deaf people start teaching sign language?
Well around the time British Sign Language research became very popular about 1978/9. In America research was happening much earlier but in the UK around that time, deaf people really had an awakening. They realised that what they were using was a real language, their language; it was BSL.
When this change occurred, where did you find the Deaf people to start teaching sign language?
There was a very small pool of deaf people that they could choose from. The research to that point had mainly been conducted by hearing people. There was one Deaf person who been born and raised in the UK but had moved to the United States to study at Gallaudet University. She knew about sign language research and sign linguistics. After she graduated she stayed in the US working. After some time she decided to return to the UK. The name of that person was Dot Miles. She began sign language teaching in the UK.