Heriot-Watt research has helped give British Sign Language (BSL) greater recognition and Deaf people gain increased equality, locally and globally.

Deaf people in the UK still experience widespread, chronic social disadvantage. Not until 2003 was BSL given state recognition as an independent language. As the Scottish engine-room of BSL research and knowledge exchange, Heriot-Watt supplies an evidence base for changes to policy and practice, helping to facilitate inclusion of sign language users across the public services.

Since 2000, the BSL and Linguistic Access Working Group  has developed Government strategy on BSL in Scotland. Heriot-Watt has provided a continuous  research-led contribution to this working group. This research undergirded the proposal for the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill lodged with the Scottish Parliament in June 2013.

Equal access to services can only become reality for Deaf people if there are sufficient, highly trained interpreters to meet their needs. Heriot-Watt’s work in the Building Bridges  project prompted a new national policy to secure a sustainable population of BSL interpreters in Scotland. The UK skills-promoting body, Signature, has also introduced new qualifications as a result of the University’s research. Heriot-Watt has led continuing professional development for interpreters and Deaf professionals and – crucially – has educated teacher trainers.  Armed with new insights, these practitioners have gone on to design sector-leading programmes and enhance understanding of the language at all levels.

Demand for Heriot-Watt’s expertise is international. Its researchers advise the World Federation of the Deaf's own experts as well as the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters. The leading company providing interpreting in International Sign credits Heriot-Watt’s research with informing the design of the services it provides across three continents.

In the UK and globally, progressive sign language interpreting – which promotes the advancement, well-being and full citizenship of Deaf people – employs service models and professional principles propelled by Heriot-Watt research.