Thursday, 8 September 2016

BSL: It's really just signed English...

Istock 79788837 large webAidan McCorry says that the response to the passing of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act in 2015 has been encouraging but not enough has changed

It was a privilege to share in the emotional celebrations of the packed galleries in Holyrood on 17 September 2015 when the BSL (Scotland) Act was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.

The legislation, which is the first of its kind in the UK, is about promoting awareness of British Sign Language (BSL) and improving access to services for those using the language by requiring the Scottish Government and listed bodies to consult on, publish, and implement their own plans for how they will promote its use.

This legislation is unlikely to change the lives of BSL users in Scotland, unless there is a long term commitment to tackling the communication barriers they face. Much has happened in the year since the act was passed into law including the creation of the Deaf Sector Partnership, a group of deaf organisations working together to ensure the effective implementation of the act. The response so far from public bodies to the measures they need to take to promote BSL and improve their accessibility to deaf people has been encouraging. 

However, as we celebrate the first anniversary of the act, it’s important to recognise that this legislation is unlikely to change the lives of BSL users in Scotland, unless there is a long-term commitment to tackling the communication barriers they face when trying to live independent and fulfilling lives. 

For example, although BSL was recognised as an official language by the UK Government in 2003 and the Scottish Government in 2011, this is not widely known and those that are aware often think of BSL as just a signed version of English. Real change will only happen when BSL shifts from being regarded as a specialist language to becoming a mainstream language and deaf BSL users’ concerns are not considered issues of equality or disability but issues of linguistic access. 

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