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Meghan Luton

Award Received: 
Jean Davies Award
researching the experiences of deaf BSL-using women in maternity care and motherhood
Year awarded: 

I was awarded the Jean Davies Award for challenging inequalities in maternal health. I applied for the award to support the use of British Sign Language (BSL) Translators in my research project – BSL using women’s experience of maternity care and motherhood.

Deafness, defined as a partial or total inability to perceive or understand sound, currently affects an estimated 1 in 5 people in the UK (Action on Hearing Loss, AoHL, 2019). Deafness is defined within four categories, mild, moderate, severe and profound.

Severe and profound deafness from birth or at a very young age, referred to as prelingual deafness, affects an estimated 370 children a year and approximately 1 in every 1000 children are severely or profoundly deaf by the age of 3. It is estimated that there are 900,000 adults in England and Wales with severe or profound deafness. Around 22-24,000 people report using British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language.

A 2014 study of deaf BSL users found that their general health was poorer than that of the general population, with higher rates of misdiagnosis and undertreatment of conditions.

Furthermore, in maternity, deaf women are more likely to have caesareans or lengthy hospital stays following birth.

Historical issues within the deaf community and a lack of recognition of BSL as a language create complexities in finding or having a deaf identity. Transitioning to motherhood can bring additional changes to a deaf women’s identity.

My study proposes to seek to understand the experiences of women who use BSL as their primary language. It will explore their experiences of maternity care and motherhood.

I used the Iolanthe Jean Davies Award to fund a qualified deaf BSL transcriber for whom BSL is their first language. For context, the grammar of BSL, a Topic Comment language, is markedly different from English, a Subject Verb Object language (SVO).

BSL linguistics where signers are taught to place ideas and concept in their signing space combined with additional features such as body language or facial expressions to create meaning creates a challenge for finding a direct translation to English.

I have interviewed both pregnant women and women who became mothers in the last 5 years who identify as deaf BSL users. The interviews were conducted in BSL, Sign Supported English, spoken English or a combination of the 3, depending on the participant's preference.

I transcribe the interviews myself but as BSL is acquired second language, I also had a sample transcribed by a qualified deaf BSL interpreter. This allowed for comparison of word choice from BSL to English.

I am now undertaking the data analysis and preliminary findings are emerging that will support conversations about how deaf women access and navigate maternity care and the transition to motherhood.

The funding from the Jean Davies Award has meant I can ensure the credibility and reliability of my research in an under-researched group, ensuring that the research is prioritising the voices of deaf women and the deaf community.