DCAL: As DCAL celebrates its 10th anniversary, here are the centre’s top ten achievements

Posted on November 17, 2015

Amongst the many research centres in University College London’s eleven faculties, there is one that has become a beacon for Deaf research.

The Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has brought together leading Deaf and hearing researchers in the fields of sign linguistics, psychology and neuroscience, to explore language and thought based on Deaf people’s communication.

It is the largest research centre in its field in Europe, with around 30 research students, research staff and associates, about one third of whom are Deaf.

As DCAL prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, we take a look back over the last decade and review some of the key achievements of the Centre and its researchers, with the goal of improving the lives and well-being of deaf people here in the UK and across the globe.

DCAL’s research over the last ten years has covered a wide range of topics, from exploration of the Deaf brain to BSL linguistics; from the analysis of language development in deaf children, through to the psychology of deafness.

We have chosen chronologically what we consider to be the ‘Top 10 in 10’, to highlight some of the best of DCAL’s activities.

10. Centre of Research Excellence – DCAL’s primary source of funding has been from the ESRC – the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on social issues. Having received funding in 2006 and renewed funding in 2010, it is clear that the Centre has been delivering demonstrably high-quality research. This was underlined in 2008 when the national assessment of university research recognised DCAL as a centre of research excellence and again in 2014 when DCAL provided one of UCL’s key case studies on Impact.

9. BSL Corpus Project – launched in 2008 and funded by the ESRC, this project aimed to record the BSL used by hundreds of Deaf people across Britain and to store this information in a collection (‘corpus’), which is publically accessible on-line. The corpus has also been used to carry out research into BSL grammar and vocabulary, variation in BSL across the country and how BSL is changing.

8. Award Winning Programming – DCAL’s appearance on BBC See Hear about research on the Deaf Brain won the 2009 Deaf Fest award for best factual programme.

7. Specialist Clinic Established – DCAL established a specialist Cognitive Disorders Clinic at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in 2011, providing services to Deaf BSL users. This was a significant step towards reducing wider healthcare inequalities for Deaf people in the UK.

6. Director Recognised – in 2012, DCAL’s Director, Prof Bencie Woll, was amongst 38 new academics elected to Fellowships of the British Academy. Woll’s election was a significant achievement, being the first researcher in the field of sign language linguistics to receive this honour.

5. BSL Exhibition – in 2013, DCAL held a History of BSL exhibition, raising awareness of BSL’s history and including unique deafness and sign language-related material, never previously exhibited together. The online version of the exhibition has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the world.

4. Mandela ‘Fake Signer’ Exposed – DCAL responded proactively to the ‘fake signer’ episode at the Nelson Mandela memorial service in 2013: an event of global significance. As a result of DCAL’s research into interpreting, and schizophrenia and signing, DCAL academics were able to comment as experts in the field.

3. Deaf Summer School – the ‘Discover UCL Summer School’ was organised by DCAL and UCL’s Widening Participation team, launched in 2014 and now an annual event. The innovative 3-day residential summer school, exclusively for D/deaf and hard of hearing students from across the UK, is the first of its kind and gives 20 Year 11 and 12 pupils a taste of student life in London.

2. BSL SignBank Online Dictionary – created by DCAL researchers in 2014 based on signs from the BSL Corpus, this is the first online, usage-based dictionary of British Sign Language based on linguistic principles.

1. Eurovision 2015 – DCAL played a key role, providing expert advice to ORF (the Austrian national public service broadcaster) on providing International Sign translation. Eurovision 2015 was the most accessible contest to date, reaching a TV audience of hundreds of millions right across Europe.

Limping Chicken says: Happy 10th Anniversary DCAL! We’re already looking forward to the ‘Top 20 achievements in 20 years’ article in 2025!

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