The UK government has backed a bill which would make British Sign Language (BSL) a legally recognised language.
The proposed law passed the first stage to becoming law by passing a vote in the House of Commons on Friday. The potential law would require public bodies to promote the language predominantly used by deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and those who regularly communicate with them. The British Deaf Association say that up to 250,000 people use some BSL on a daily basis.
How did the BSL bill gather support in parliament?
The bill was put forward by Labour's Rosie Cooper who said in her proposal speech it would send “a clear message that they [the deaf community] deserve equal access”.
Urging MPs to support her legislation, she added, “For every deaf person like my parents, who've been ignored, misunderstood, or even treated as unintelligent for simply relying on BSL, this recognition will be a clear and will be a message that their language is equal and should be treated as equal.”
Work and Pensions Minister, Chloe Smith, announced the government's support for the legislation. She said it was a “significant step towards ensuring that deaf people are not excluded from reaching their full potential”.
In the event passes further scrutiny, the government would be required to follow new guidance on how the use of BSL can be put in place across services. It also calls for a British Sign Language Council to be formed to promote and advise on the use of BSL.
Did Rose Ayling-Ellis campaign to recognise BSL as an official language?
The bill has been championed by actress, Rose Ayling-Ellis, best known for her role in the soap Eastenders and as the 2021 champion of Strictly Come Dancing. Ayling-Ellis, who is deaf and a BSL user, posted on social media that the BSL bill should pass and that, “BSL should be a recognised language”.
Why did Sign Solutions support the bill?
Includability Official Partner, Sign Solution also supports the proposed bill to become law.
Sophie Kang, a Business Development Manager at Sign Solutions, offered her support for the act of law: “Often sign language users have been overlooked and services have lacked in providing access for the Deaf community. Due to societies in-equality, everyday tasks have been a struggle and has meant that of those that use BSL as their first language have not been able to fulfil their full potential. Should the Bill be passed the Government are committing to improving the lives of Deaf people and will encourage organisations to make their services accessible for BSL users. There is still a long way to go however, BSL users are now one step closer in achieving equality and giving legal recognition to their language.”
Adam Breeze, a fellow Business Development Manger at Sign Solutions and BSL speaker spoke about his experience in campaigning for BSL to be a recognised since 2003. He has expressed his comments in written BSL with an accompanying English translation.
“I have been attend march on 18th March 2003 and before that to try get BSL into LAW, I have been through many years to fight for BSL ACT, I never thought that BSL ACT has passed second reading so far, Glad to see British start open and welcome to BSL and felt like we are start getting Inclusive more,” said Adam.
“I can remember I attended a march on March 18th 2003, since then, I have spent many years fighting for the BSL ACT. I am glad to see that the Government is bringing the ACT to its second reading as I was uncertain that it would get this far. I am pleased to see that the Government and the British public are taking an interest in BSL and feel as though we are taking the steps to become more inclusive for sign language users, like me.”
Is BSL recognised elsewhere in the UK?
BSL is not currently recognised as an official language in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In 2015 Scotland recognised BSL as an official language.
On Friday, House of Commons MPs approved it at second reading. The bill will now move on to committee stage where it will be scrutinised line-by-line by MPs. In the event of the bill passing this stage, it will be scrutinised further in the House of Lords before it is enacted.
Image Credit - Rose Ayling-Ellis