Deaf and BSL Project

Woman and a man converse in sign language

August 2022 update

As the Appeal comes to a close and we begin delivering our projects, we are incredibly pleased about the positive impact our donors are bringing to deaf and British Sign Language (BSL) students.

As a centre of expertise, Heriot-Watt has a strong commitment to ensuring that deaf and BSL students can enjoy the same experiences at the university as anyone else. And the main aim of the Deaf and BSL Project is to create a pioneering programme of scholarships for deaf and hard of hearing students at all levels across the Heriot-Watt campuses in Scotland.

Making a difference to our Deaf and BSL community

Starting in September 2022, the first scholarships of £2,000 per year will be awarded to five deaf and sign language students to access undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at our Scottish campuses, and we will launch scholarships for two PhD students. We have also secured gifts in kind from a company to provide our deaf and BSL scholars with innovative free interpretation software.

They will follow in the footsteps of many deaf and BSL students who have already benefited from the ground-breaking approach taken by Heriot-Watt. When deaf PhD student Mette was studying at universities in Denmark and England, she often felt excluded.

Mette Lindsay

"It was frustrating being unable to talk to other students easily and I found that having an interpreter present could be problematic and inhibit interaction,” she says. However, that changed when Mette moved to Heriot-Watt to work on her PhD.

“The work of the deaf researchers at Heriot-Watt had a real impact,” she says. “I had access to an in-house staff interpreter team and my supervisors were knowledgeable about deafness, both of which made it easier to participate. It really helped my development.”

Mette completed her PhD in 2021 but the work to promote opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing members of the Heriot-Watt community in Scotland has been accelerated through the Deaf and BSL Project.

Professor Jemima Napier

Deaf and BSL Project leads, Professor Napier and Professor Adam

Professor Jemina Napier, Director of Research at the School of Social Sciences, is one of the leaders of the Deaf and BSL Project at Heriot-Watt and grew up in a multi-generational deaf family with BSL as her home language.

“Scottish Government figures show that deaf students are significantly under-represented in higher education, with just 25% going on to university, compared with 41% of students who have no access needs,” says Jemina.

“Accessibility to learning needs drastic improvement to ensure that everyone is given the same opportunity and confidence to thrive no matter if they are deaf or hard of hearing. That's why the 1821 Appeal project is so important to us.”

Dr Robert Adam

Dr Robert Adam, who is himself deaf and is Head of the BSL section in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt, is also leading the project.

"I grew up without sign language access to education, community services, or the media,” he says. “So, I'm aware of how deaf lives have been enhanced through its provision. BSL has been recognised as one of the languages of Scotland, and the Scottish Government wants to make Scotland the best place in the world for BSL users to live, work and visit.

Our new programme of support for deaf or hard of hearing signing students will play an important role in that vision. “We are so grateful for your generous contribution,” adds Robert. “Together, the donations will make a huge difference to the experience, opportunities and futures of our deaf and hard-of-hearing students who use BSL.”

If you’re a student or prospective student interested in knowing more about the project, please contact

Donations welcome

Donations to the 1821 Appeal Deaf and BSL Project continue to be very welcome. If you know someone who might like to make a contribution, or simply find out more about the project, please contact