BSL Legal Status Change A "Momentous Day"

By Our Family Home Care

Friday 18th March 2022 was one of the most important events in the Deaf community and will be studied, remembered and celebrated in Deaf history for years to come. The House of Commons passed a new bill making BSL equal to all other languages and so will revolutionise the lives of many Deaf people across the UK in Schools, work and day-to-day life. 

In the UK there are around 151,000 people using British Sign Language (BSL). Shockingly, BSL was only recognised in 2003 as a language in the UK but those who were Deaf or used it as a mode of communication didn’t have the same rights to health care, education, and the basic need to communicate freely without discrimination. This bill will mean BSL is a language equal to English.

The bill was first introduced in June 2021, had its second reading in January 2022, and third reading on the 18th March 2022. The rally supported the passing of the bill, held in Trafalgar Square, which saw a massive leap towards equality after having its third and final request accepted by the House Of Commons. This is a momentous day for everyone who is part of the Deaf community or uses BSL to communicate.

So what is the new bill?

The British Sign Language Bill or ‘BSL ACT’ will give the language legal recognition in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as require the Government to issue new guidance and publish reports on what each government department is doing to promote or facilitate the use of the language. The bill also grants more interpreters at doctors' appointments, press conferences and day-to-day life.

Rosie Cooper MP, a child of deaf parents and advocate of the BSL bill said,

"This Bill is all about improving the lives of deaf people and the Minister and I have worked together in strengthening it and achieving cross-party approval."

"I am confident that with the support of MPs across all parties today, we can get this Bill passed and start making positive steps to give deaf people equal access to public services."

This isn't the first time BSL has been in the limelight, in the last 6 months thanks to Rose Ayling-Ellis, who was the first Deaf person to appear on Strictly Come Dancing and go on to win. Rose's dance with partner Giovanni Penrice brought the nation to tears with her routine, including a section in complete silence, showing the world what she hears.

After the announcement of the bill being passed in the House of Commons we sent out our social media expert Oliver (O) to speak to local BSL Communication Support Worker, Amy (A) about her trip to the capital for the Rally and what this means for the future of BSL. These were her views on the impact this will have in the future.

O: Firstly Amy thank you for letting me come talk to you about the BSL bill and rally, so can you tell me a bit about it and why you went to London on March 18th, 2022?

A: Originally the Rally was meant to be outside Parliament Square, which is was for the second reading, but with the masses of people indicating that they were going to attend the rally,  it got moved to Trafalgar Square to allow more space for supporters. It was packed with school children, Deaf charity groups, Deaf Clubs and BSL users, their family and friends. The atmosphere was amazing: so positive and powerful. People had travelled from France and Belgium just for this day. Famous faces signed/spoke, poems were read and school children demanded a better future for themselves. We held our banners high and signed/shouted “BSL ACT NOW!” The children I was with were amazed to see people “just like me” talking to the masses about equality, change and ending discrimination.  It was the 3rd and final reading in the House of Commons  for the BSL Act, if approved it would then go on to the House of Lords to give BSL legal status, which would require the government to provide better services, such as more professional interpreters - so BSL users won’t  have to rely on family members to interpret during  their day to day life  - and it’s been passed in the House of Commons! 

O: Tell me a bit about yourself, have you always been able to sign or is it something you've picked up to help with your job?

A: I started signing because my mum was learning for her job,  I achieved my Level 1 then when I was 14 I supported a very young Deaf child at a summer camp during the school holidays. I'm a professional artist and started using BSL more and more at events through my different jobs. I then went on to do my Level 2 & 3 qualifications, which led to me getting a job as a Communication Support Worker in a school. I also volunteer for the Cambridgeshire Deaf Association, speaking to 3 adults a week, helping them with any daily tasks such as reading letters, making appointments on the phone, booking interpreters and also general chats to check on their welfare. I really do love BSL, it is such a beautiful, expressive  language; one sign with the correct facial expression can convey a whole sentence in written English.

O: You mentioned you work in a school. How will the Bill affect the children's future compared to Deaf adults? 

A: The children's opportunities will be far greater than those of Deaf adults in the workplace or retired now. They will have access to more Government funding, professionally trained interpreters, technology will improve with more Deaf people in the workplace and BSL will be a recognised as legal language. Workplaces won't be allowed to discriminate against the Deaf by not putting in place the access they may need . The future is looking good for Deaf children and I hope this Act will lead to equality in all areas of their lives. Currently children can do GCSEs in 15 different spoken languages but not in BSL. I hope that the younger children I support will have the option of taking GCSE BSL.

O: We've seen the interest and awareness in BSL over the last couple of months, thanks to the likes of Rose Ayaling-Ellis winning Strictly and Rosie Cooper MP being massive advocates for this bill, what else can people do and where can they go if they wish to learn BSL?

A: If you wish to learn firstly to go through the BSL professional bodies such as IBSL & Signature instead of very cheap online courses that are out there. You will get an accredited certificate.

 One huge thing that would benefit all Deaf people (and it costs nothing) is to become more Deaf Aware. The more we see BSL being used in media, the more normalised it will becomes and I hope the less discrimination we will see. If you meet a Deaf person there are some basic but important things to do. Talk normally, don't slow your speech or over emphasise, don't shout at the person either. Don't put your hands near your face and be in a well lit area where the sun or light source isn’t shining in the Deaf persons face. Deaf awareness is definitely the first hurdle in breaking down barriers.

Lastly please support the BSL ACT! It has been heard in the House of Commons and been agreed BUT the Act still needs to be given ‘Royal Assent’ by the House of Lords before the Queens speech in May 2022, if the deadline is missed the whole process will have to start again. You can support the campaign online, follow #BSLActNOW on Twitter account and look up RNID’s and BDA’s website and social media accounts. 

We would like to thank Amy for the time she took out her day to let us speak to her.

Amy Louise Nettleton MA – professional artist and facilitator 


All information provided within the ourticle is correct at time of publishing, all answers and suggestions provided by the guest are all thier personal views.