British Sign Language set for legal recognition

British Sign Language set for legal recognitionBritish Sign Language set for legal recognition

British Sign Language (BSL) will gain formal recognition under legislation set to be passed by MPs.

The bill, which sailed through its first hurdle in the Commons in January, would require public bodies to promote the language.

It will also recognise BSL as a language in its own right in England, Wales and Scotland.

The final scrutiny stage in the Commons will take place later, after which the bill will go to the House of Lords.

The legislation, introduced by Labour MP Rosie Cooper, has been backed by the government.

Up to 250,000 people in the UK use some BSL on a daily basis, according to the British Deaf Association.

Disabilities Minister Chloe Smith said legally recognising BSL would help deliver better public services to deaf people.

“Legally recognising BSL will create a more inclusive and accessible society, improving the lives of deaf people and helping public services to do it right,” she added.

The bill would require government departments to follow new guidance on how the use of BSL can be put in place across its services.

Although it will not allocate any new funds for BSL promotion, Ms Smith argued this issue was a “red herring” as the Equalities Act already ensures deaf people must have access to public services.

‘Stronger presence needed’

Media caption,

“We need a stronger presence,” says BSL user

Kelsey Gordon is currently directing an interactive performance co-produced by a theatre that specialises in plays acted in BSL.

The actor and stage director says deaf people “need a stronger presence” in the arts.

“We’re tiptoeing our way through it at the moment, and we need to blast those doors open,” she adds.

“BSL is our language, it is really important to have a deaf representative in the room.”

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Ms Cooper, the MP for West Lancashire, grew up using BSL and says her bill is about “doing what is right”.

She said the bill would “begin the process” of giving deaf people “equal equal access to the essential services that everyone else takes for granted”.

“No longer will they need to feel not heard, ignored and invisible,” she added.

She has also backed an initiative under which MPs will be offered lessons to learn BSL.

She added that Parliament had offered spoken foreign language training to MPs for many years, but she would encourage her colleagues to now take up the chance to get training in the “rich and historic language” of BSL.

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