One of the College’s most important centres could be on the verge of closure following the “pausing” of funding by the Higher Education Authority.
A press release on the website irishdeafkids.ie under the title “TCD’s Centre For Deaf Studies Said to Be At Risk” (sic) reported that the Centre was now considered under threat due to the potential loss of funding provided by the HEA. However according to an official statement released by the College to the Trinity News, “There have been no discussions at College level on the future of Deaf Studies. Trinity College has followed due process with regards to making returns to the Higher Education Authority for State grant allocation.”
The HEA provide the Centre with Strategic Innovation Funding (SIF), which is directly linked to matched funding, in CDS’ case, their core funding. Any cutbacks on this funding would prohibit the Centre from implementing their future nationwide projects and would put current projects in jeopardy.
The Centre for Deaf Studies in Trinity College was established in 2001 creating the first permanent centre of its kind to provide professional training programmes for interpreters in Ireland. Previously, there had been two EU-sponsored bi-university short-term ventures between the College and Bristol University in 1992 and UCC and Bristol in 1998.
The impact of the loss of such a Centre would prove devastating to ordinary members of the deaf community, not just students and lecturers in the Centre. According to Dr Lorraine Leeson, director of the Centre, the closure would cause “insufficiency in provision of interpreters in both public service and private domains than exists at present, which in turn impacts on the legal obligations of both public and private bodies under the terms of the Disability Act.”
With an estimated 5,000 deaf people in the Republic, 4,500 in the North plus an additional 10 people per deaf person who uses sign language to communicate with these deaf people, it amounts to over 95,000 people using sign language on the island. The CDS is the only Centre in Ireland to teach Irish/English Sign language interpreting therefore its closure would not only signal an end to the teaching in Ireland but could create legal ramifications due to a shortage of interpreters. Recent examples including the Kanturk Court Case where a case was dismissed over question of the qualifications of the interpreter, could become common practice should the country lose its sole interpreter training programme.
Another serious case involved a deaf man being prepped for heart surgery when he was really due to receive an operation on his finger, all due to the absence of an interpreter.
Such examples only highlight further the need to increase the number of Irish/English signing interpreters in Ireland. There is currently only 50-60 with an estimated 200 needed to make up the shortfall. The effects already suffered due to the shortages would only serve to be intensified and become more frequent.
Deaf students within the College would also be affected. The Centre, along with the College’s Disability Support Service, offers note-takers and reading support along with other individualized supports that could be jeopardized should the Centre close.
With regard to the recent funding awarded to the Centre under the Strategic Innovation Fund, the College said “We are now awaiting clarification on the prioritisation of SIF projects following recent reductions in state finances.”
Critics say that by allowing this centre to close, the HEA must acknowledge not only the academic ramifications it would create but also the social costs. They also claim that without the Centre, members of the deaf community would be deprived of a voice which would only serve to further marginalise them. The closure would also create legal ramifications similar to those seen in the Kanturk case.
The future of the centre will be decided later this week when the HEA meet to discuss the future of the SIF payments.