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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

British Sign Language Set for Legal Recognition on ‘Momentous Day’

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British Sign Language (BSL) appears ready to be recognized as a legal language (Getty Images)

British Sign Language appears poised to be recognized as a legal language on a “momentous day” for the deaf community.

The government confirmed its support for the British Sign Language Bill, which received a third and final reading without opposition in the House of Commons.

The private members bill, introduced by Labor MP Rosie Cooper, whose parents are deaf, would require public bodies to promote the language.

It will also recognize British Sign Language (BSL) as a language in its own right in England, Wales and Scotland.

Mrs. Cooper signed “thank you” when her bill was settled on Friday. She will now go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

The MP for West Lancashire said: “This is a momentous day for the deaf community as it is exactly 19 years ago, the day British Sign Language was first recognized in a ministerial declaration. Unfortunately for the deaf community, not much has changed.

“So, today, we have an opportunity to finally commit that recognition by statute. The deaf community has been fighting all their lives for this moment and many of them are currently in Trafalgar Square watching this debate on a giant screen.”

Ms Cooper said the day would be “one that I hope deaf people will celebrate for many years to come.”

She added: “The recognition of BSL is the historic acceptance of a language that has been overlooked and misunderstood for far too long. This bill is a testament to the persistence of all deaf people and a celebration of deaf culture. We, all of us today, stand on the shoulders of every deaf activist who has fought hard for us here.”

Strictly Come Dancing champion Rose Ayling-Ellis, who supports the British Sign Language Bill, pictured with her dance partner Giovanni Pernice (Jacob King/PA)

Strictly Come Dancing champion Rose Ayling-Ellis, who supports the British Sign Language Bill, pictured with her dance partner Giovanni Pernice (Jacob King/PA)

The deputy, who is the daughter of deaf parents, said that her father “fought to be treated as an equal human being, to be appreciated and listened to based on merit, not deafness.”

She described the growing prominence and success of deaf people in the culture, including Strictly come to dance champion Rose Ayling-Ellis, who supports the bill.

“Times are changing, the country is supporting deaf people and we cannot allow Parliament to be left behind,” Cooper said, although he acknowledged that the bill “was not a panacea.”

The bill, which is expected to pass on Friday, would require government departments to follow new guidance on how the use of BSL can be implemented across their services.

Chloe Smith MP, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, said: “We know that many Deaf/D people may experience social isolation and face reduced access to work and education due to barriers in communicating their basic needs and aspirations.

“The legal recognition of BSL will create a more inclusive and accessible society, improving the lives of people who are deaf/D and helping public services get it right.”

Additional Reports from the Press Association

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