Recognition of British Sign Language

British Sign Language, or BSL, is the first language of over 70,000 UK citizens. It is the 4th most widely used language in the country, however it is not recognised as a language by the British Government. On Saturday 24 March, there is a march to demand that the Government officially recognises BSL as a language of its people.

Ten years ago the European Parliament recognised sign language. It recommended that each member state should constitutionally recognise the sign language of their country. Many European states have done so; the British Government has so far refused.

Why Recognise BSL as a Language?

Recognition of BSL is vital to deaf people in the UK. It will ensure that deaf people of all ages will have full access and full citizenship. Deaf people are currently denied education, employment and participation in community life.

Although awareness is getting better, unfortunately much of the general public do not see there is a problem for deaf people. They see sign language being used and interpreters on television and assume that everything is fine. They are not aware that deaf children are very often not allowed to sign, that deaf people have problems gaining access to information, that there is no guarantee that a deaf person can get an interpreter, and so on. The public need more awareness of the true issues and to know that the recognition of BSL is the solution to these problems.

What Exactly is BSL?

British Sign Language is a full grammatical language that is used not only by the deaf community but over 100,000 hearing people who have a basic proficiency in the language. BSL is not, as is commonly thought, a visual representation of spoken or written English, it is a fully visual gestural grammatical language with its own vocabulary, syntax and morphology. It is recognised by linguists as being equal to any spoken language.

What do Deaf People Want?

The deaf community basically want a British Sign Language Act. This Act should recognise British Sign Language as an official language of the United Kingdom, promote and facilitate the use of BSL as a first and natural language, recognise the right of deaf people to have comprehensive access to education, information and other service through the medium of BSL and set up a British Sign Language Board.

BSL Manchester March, c/o Deaf Team Stalybridge Resource Centre (0161 342 2577 (textphone)

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© Networking Newsletter (Feb 2001)