Every day, deaf people fight to be heard, to be listened to and to be understood. As both of my parents were profoundly deaf, British Sign Language was my first language.
Growing up I saw first-hand the difficulties deaf people face and continue to face, but I also saw how incredible British Sign Language (BSL) is as a language and how amazing the deaf community is! I often joke that the deaf community abducted me at birth and that deaf culture shaped me into the person I am today. I chose to present the BSL Bill because, despite the progress that has been made, so many of the unbelievable obstacles that I saw my parents face throughout their lives are still a problem to this day.
As I grew up, I would regularly interpret for my parents, I’m told I booked my first holiday when I was four. I was also exposed to deaf campaigning issues such as the fight for subtitles on TV programmes in the ’70s.
It is unbelievable to think that we live in a country where hearing children of deaf parents are sometimes used by doctors to interpret and convey a serious medical diagnosis because an interpreter wasn’t available, or someone didn’t think to book one.
Even things that hearing people take for granted, like going to a meeting at the Jobcentre or watching live telly is very different! You wouldn’t expect to go for a meeting with a benefits adviser and find they can’t communicate with you, so why do deaf people? Deaf people deserve an equal playing field, not to be treated like an afterthought.
My Bill will declare BSL as an official language and create the requirement for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to all government departments on how they should accommodate the use of BSL in each of their responsibilities.