A controversial bill that will recognise British Sign Language (BSL) as a language in England, Scotland and Wales is set to become law after being passed by both Houses of Parliament.
BSL-users have been warned that the private members’ bill will provide them with no new rights, but it has still secured significant support from the Deaf community.
The British Sign Language bill, originally introduced by Labour MP Rosie Cooper, herself a child of Deaf parents, secured widespread support from backbench Conservative MPs and the government.
Members of the House of Lords approved the bill yesterday (Wednesday) after it had already been passed by MPs.
The legislation, once it receives royal assent, will require the work and pensions secretary to produce regular reports on what 20 government departments have done to “promote or facilitate” the use of BSL in their “communications with the public”.
And it will require the work and pensions secretary to secure guidance for government departments and other public bodies on the “promotion and facilitation” of BSL.
But some Deaf activists have described it as a “token bill that the government are using to look good without costing anything” and as a way for the government to “gain brownie points at zero cost”, with one even warning that it will put the battle for BSL rights and provision “back for another decade at least”.
David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association, who has led attempts to secure the legislation, said yesterday that the passing of the bill was “an historic day for the Deaf community in the UK, and an inspiration for other countries around the world” where national sign languages have not yet been recognised in law.
He said: “While today is a day to celebrate, we are aware that this marks the first step on a long path towards providing truly equal access to public services, information and opportunities for Deaf BSL users in Great Britain.
“The British Deaf Association looks forward to working hand in hand with the government and civil servants to implement and monitor the progress of the BSL Act 2022 to meet the unique needs of the 151,000 people who have British Sign Language as their first or preferred language.”
Cooper said: “At long last, the Deaf community will be able to say that their language is legally recognised.
“Working across party lines and with the Deaf community, I really believe we have made history by creating a mechanism for Deaf people to achieve equal access to public services.
“Their voices will be heard loud and clear and there will be no excuse for failing to respect BSL as a language.
“The hard work doesn’t stop here however, but the door is now open for the Deaf community [to] make real progress fixing the injustices that they continue to face.”
Chloe Smith, the minister for disabled people, said the bill would “help remove barriers faced by the D/deaf community in daily life and is a further welcome step towards a more inclusive and accessible society”.
Picture: Deaf people at a rally to support the bill in Trafalgar Square, London, last month. Picture by British Deaf Association
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