PhD annual review

It is a year since I started my PhD and I thought some of you may be interested to know how I’m getting on so far.

In my initial proposal, I set out to employ three methodologies: doctrinal approach, the socio-legal approach and the comparative approach. The doctrinal approach was to be used to look at the UK’s anti-discrimination legislation, enshrined in the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, and to look further afield to Europe and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as the current legal position in relation to the official recognition of British Sign Language (BSL) as a language in its own right. The socio-legal approach was to entail an investigation into the impact of disability laws upon Deaf people and the Deaf identity, conducted by way of a literature review of legislation, case law, Government and other regulatory body publications, literature, printed and online journals and reference texts. It was also proposed to look further afield to three other jurisdictions for comparative purposes, to determine whether the legal recognition of sign language has been the solution to any conflict between disability law and the Deaf identity, and to consider whether empirical research would be useful.

At the outset of the PhD, however, it was agreed that I would focus on the first two methodological approaches, and that the third and fourth would be utilised for further research in this area, with the thesis forming the springboard for such studies.

With my attention focused on doctrinal and socio-legal research, I embarked on a literature review of disability law and the definition of disability. This included a look at civil and human rights, welfare law and how Deaf people fit in within these paradigms. An unfinished draft was submitted to my supervisors on 1 April 2015, and feedback provided by my supervisors was that the research question was too broad, suggesting that I focus on employment only. There appeared to be too much explanation of terminology such as “disability’, which should be confined to the introduction in Chapter 1. In relation to disability law, it was advised that I read more widely around the topic as the sources identified were 15 years out of date. It was advised that I separate the theoretical and practical arguments as my theoretical positions were integrated with statistical and definitional sections and so it was not always clear what my arguments were in relation to these. Overall, there needed to be more clarity on direction, coverage and structure.

It thus became clear that the definitional sections needed to be moved to Chapter 1 (the introduction), and that further work was required on the theoretical position and bringing disability law up-to-date. Draft Chapters 1 and 2 were submitted on 28 June 2015 (the introduction and a revised attempt at Chapter 2, exploring disability law). At this conjecture, I proposed that the thesis would take the shape of a chapter introducing the concept of Deaf law (that is, how Deaf people are defined/treated by disability law, followed by three possible solutions to the conflict: sign language recognition (in line with the minority model, including a comparative analysis with New Zealand as they have recognised New Zealand Sign Language and they are an English-speaking country); protection as an ethnic group (the civil rights model and a comparative analysis with a country that recognises Deaf people as an ethnic group; and communication vouchers (akin to the welfare model, including a comparative analysis with Finland who use this system). The rationale behind this proposal was that there appeared to be (I had thought wrongly) insufficient material for a critique of disability law and language law as standalone chapters (and could be combined with the theoretical chapters exploring these), and also it would be useful to see how the solutions have worked elsewhere to assist in concluding whether they would work in the UK. Chapter 2 was thus drafted with this in mind.

Feedback from my supervisors identified that some of the issues from the first draft continued to persist, namely the extremely broad focus of my research question, unfocussed and insufficiently detailed arguments, and overall, more thought was needed regarding the scope of the chapter and detail given to the analysis of theoretical and legal material.

It was agreed at a meeting on 10 July 2015 that I had tried to do too much in one chapter, and instead, what I am attempting to do in Chapter 2 should be the focus of the whole thesis; separated into chapters accordingly, that is, the thesis should be focusing on the theoretical perspectives of particular areas of law and how they relate to Deaf people: for example, Chapter 2 would be a theoretical exploration of civil and human rights law in relation to Deaf people, and Chapter 3 on a different area, such as welfare law. The whole thesis would then be an introduction to the Deaf Law concept, as opposed to just Chapter 2.

In other words, it was agreed that I would go back to basics and focus on the relationship between disability law and Deaf law and how that impacts on the rights and effectiveness of those rights, moving away from the solutions that I had proposed in my revised structure. This is the cause for my confusion; I was trying to consider too many issues at once at the expense of focus.

In order to remedy these issues, it was agreed that I would only focus on the employment context. Each chapter will need to consider the following issues when examining particular theoretical perspectives:

  1. Introduction
  2. What is the disability law position?
  3. What are the issues/tensions for Deaf people within the context of the particular perspective i.e. discrimination, welfare?
  4. Case studies if required
  5. Conclusion

These research questions will provide the basis of the arguments in each of the chapters, that is, a critique of equality law in relation to employment and how it does not work for Deaf people currently, then the next chapter a critique of another theoretical perspective, for example, welfare and how it does work, or may not work for Deaf people. Chapter 4 could then look at language law to see how Deaf people would fit in within that framework, followed by a conclusion in Chapter 5.


Deaf, hubby to Rachel, dad to Corey, Libby and Emily, Solicitor, Lecturer in Legal Practice at University of South Wales, PhD student at University of Leicester.

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