Large demonstrations in London, local marches across the UK, direct action on the streets – in the late 1990′s/early 2000′s Deaf people, along with hearing supporters, led a campaign to pressurise the UK government to recognise British Sign Language (BSL).
After a concentrated campaign these actions, led by the Federation of Deaf People, resulted in a ‘statement of acknowledgement’ in March 2003. This setting was the background to a research project constructed and funded by the University of Central Lancashire.
The research findings formed the PhD of Steven Emery in 2006, and were published in English and BSL by Ishara Press in 2011.
This work is the first comprehensive study on citizenship and the Deaf community, addressing the social exclusion of Deaf people within parameters set by existing social policy. It explores how citizenship can be used as a conceptual tool to work towards a society in which Deaf people are not so disadvantaged in spheres of citizenship and civic participation.
The research project interviewed Deaf people for their experiences of citizenship and identified to what extent social exclusion is experienced. It explored key concepts such as audism, phonocentrism, and minority group rights.
In summary, the research argues for a process of renegotiation in policy arenas in order to adequately reflect Deaf peoples’ experience as citizens. Since the completion of the study in 2007, post-doctoral work has focussed on the concept of minority group rights, which it is suggested would reposition the Deaf community within a wider multicultural citizenship, with signed languages and Deaf culture at the heart.
The concept of citizenship itself is a contested concept, and is far more than a package of rights and responsibilities. The question the research asks is whether the concept of citizenship can be conceived of as a negotiating concept in respect of Deaf communities.
As Dahrendorf wrote in 1994 (in The Condition of Citizenship edited by B. van Steenbergen) citizenship is ‘not only about provisions and entitlements, but how those provisions and entitlements have changed – citizenship becomes a “site of struggle” ‘ (p.12) and whereby ‘common respect for basic entitlements among people who are different in origin, culture and creed provides that combination of identity and variety which lies at the heart of civil…societies.’ (p17).
The book explores these and other issues in detail.