Opinion

Help make British Sign Language an official language

Labour MP Rosie Cooper’s explains why British Sign Language should be an official language in the UK – enshrining the rights of 180,000 to get the support they need.

British Sign Language on Elm St Graffiti Alley, Roath, Cardiff. Image: Jeremy Segrott/Flickr

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.

This guidance will be created in direct consultation with deaf BSL users to ensure it truly reflects the needs of the deaf community. Since I first presented this Bill in Parliament in June 2021, the understanding and appreciation of BSL has exploded thanks to Rose. She proved that deaf people really can do anything, even the seemingly impossible such as winning Strictly when you can’t hear the music.

The glimpse she gave the hearing world into deafness must not be forgotten. Seeing everyone on Strictly learn a little more signing each week, along with the rest of the country, was incredibly moving. People now have a much greater understanding of BSL and why it is essential that we put it on an equal footing with other languages that people rely on.

On January 28, the BSL Bill will be debated in Parliament for the first time. We need as many MPs as possible to speak at the debate and support it, or it will never become law. Please write to your local MP to ask that they support the BSL Bill. Visit BSL Act Now for more information.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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