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BSL set to gain official status

03 February 2022

BSL set to gain official status

British Sign Language is set to become a legally recognised language after the Government backed a private member’s bill.

The change will mean that public bodies have to promote the language and ensure that interpreters are available for certain services and events.

Labour's Rosie Cooper, who introduced the Bill, said it would send "a clear message that they [the deaf community] deserve equal access".

Urging MPs to support her legislation, Ms Cooper said: "For every deaf person like my parents, who've been ignored, misunderstood, or even treated as unintelligent for simply relying on BSL (British Sign Language), this recognition will be a clear message that their language is equal and should be treated as equal."

Work and Pensions Minister Chloe Smith told the Commons it was a "significant step towards ensuring that deaf people are not excluded from reaching their full potential".

The Government’s decision to back Ms Cooper means that her Bill is likely to succeed.

As well as placing new requirements on certain services, the Bill calls for a British Sign Language Council to be formed to promote and advise on the use of BSL.

David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association, said: "This bill has been 19 years in the making. Deaf people in Britain never gave up hope that their language would one day be not only recognised in law, but also protected and promoted so that deaf people are finally able to access information and services and achieve their potential on an equal basis with their fellow hearing citizens."

The association says that up to 250,000 people use some BSL each day.

BSL is not currently recognised as an official language in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In 2015 Scotland recognised BSL as an official language.

DR UK’s Head of Policy, Fazilet Hadi, welcomed BSL receiving official recognition as a language,  saying: “Deaf people are entitled to BSL being offered as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act but far too often this isn’t happening. BSL being an official language  will hopefully mean a change of attitude and a change of approach, forcing services  to meet the language needs of their Deaf customers.”