BSL Bill passes 2nd reading: UK Deaf community celebrates important step towards legal status of British Sign Language

Deaf people around the UK are celebrating a vital step towards the legal recognition of British Sign Language (BSL), after the BSL Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons today.

BSL is the first language of 87,000 Deaf people in the UK. The language was formally recognised by the UK government in 2003 but still does not have full legal status, meaning many Deaf people are unable to access essential information and services in their first language.

Campaigners – including Strictly Come Dancing 2021 winner, Deaf actress Rose Ayling-Ellis – and charities supporting the BSL Act Now! campaign are celebrating the victory and calling upon MPs and ministers to get the Bill over the line.

The Bill still has to complete its passage through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If passed, a BSL Act would increase both the official status and public awareness of BSL. Government Departments and public bodies would also be required to adhere to and report their performance against new guidance, setting out how they must meet the needs of BSL users.

The Bill was presented as a Private Member’s Bill by Labour MP Rosie Cooper, who is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) and considers BSL her first language. The Bill was passed unanimously.

Rosie has worked closely with Deaf sector organisations from the BSL Act Now! Campaign coalition, led by the British Deaf Association, including RNID, the Royal Association for Deaf People, SignHealth, National Deaf Children’s Society, Black Deaf UK, Signature, iBSL and the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD).

Speaking to The Big Issue this month, Rose Ayling-Ellis said that achieving legal recognition for BSL would be ‘emotional’, as ‘a lot of people don’t realise how much of a fight the deaf community have had’.

David Buxton, Chair of the British Deaf Association, said:

“This Bill has been nineteen 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. I now call upon Ministers and MPs to do everything their can to get the British Sign Language Bill to Royal Assent in this parliamentary session.”

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of RNID, said:

“This is a momentous day for the Deaf community where we celebrate moving a massive step closer to full legal recognition for BSL. We are thrilled that the Bill has been approved in principle by MPs and will now move onto the next stages of the legislative process.

“The Bill includes important mechanisms which will provide government departments and public services with guidance explaining how they are required to meet the needs of BSL users. This will help ensure BSL users are fully included in society.

“We celebrate with the Deaf community today and we hope parliamentarians will now give Rosie Cooper all the support she needs to get this Bill passed into legislation and give BSL and deaf people the recognition they deserve.”

Lindsay Foster, Executive Director at Signature, said:

“Today is a great day for Deaf people across the UK as we move forward towards seeing BSL getting full legal recognition.

“We are proud to have played a part in the campaign, which today has made a huge step in the right direction to breaking down communication barriers for all, which the sector has pulled together to achieve.

“We look forward to continuing working with colleagues across the sector to get this through the final stages and this along with the continued positive developments towards GCSE in BSL will make a significant difference to so many people’s lives.”

Rosie Cooper, MP, said:

“I am delighted that the Bill has passed this huge hurdle. Deaf people have been waiting for 230 years for the legal recognition of BSL, and that goal is now in sight.

“I am glad the Government have agreed to support this Bill, which I hope will allow it safe passage to be made into law.”

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