Sign language is a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expression and body language. It is used mainly by people who are Deaf or to support those who have a hearing loss. In the UK, the most common sign language used is British Sign Language (BSL). It has its own grammatical structure and syntax; as a language, it is not dependent upon or related to English. BSL was recognised by the British Government as a language on 18 March 2003.
There are some 150,000 Deaf adults and children in the UK who use BSL and for 70,000 of them, BSL is their preferred means of communication. The actual number of people using BSL on a day to day basis is of course considerably higher. Indeed these figures do not take into account the families, friends and colleagues of Deaf people who use BSL to communicate with them.
Many people view sign language as a means of communication for someone who has been profoundly deaf from childhood. However, the hard facts are that deafness can impact anyone at any point in their life for any number of reasons. An ageing population also means that there are more and more people who face hearing loss later in life.
There are currently 10 million people who have a hearing loss in the UK and more than 800,000 are either severely or profoundly deaf. See Prevalence of hearing loss by Local Authority area (2014 ONS estimates) for more details on areas.
Any form of disability can lead to social exclusion and isolation, and deafness certainly has the potential to cause this problem. As a society, we have a responsibility to address this and encouraging the widespread use of an effective means of communication is one method that can be employed.
BSL skills are increasingly relevant as our population ages.