British Sign Language Bill passed by parliament on 'historic day' for Deaf community
The BSL Act 2022 will recognise BSL as a language in its own right
In a momentous day for tens of thousands of British Sign Language (BSL) users, parliament passed a Bill yesterday (27 April) which will recognise BSL as a language of England, Wales and Scotland in its own right.
The British Sign Language Bill was introduced by Rosie Cooper MP on 16 June 2021 and received unanimous cross-party support. The Bill was passed after its third reading in parliament and will now receive Royal Assent.
As well as recognising BSL as an official language, the BSL Act 2022 will place a duty on the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to regularly report on what each relevant government department has done to promote or facilitate the use of BSL in its communications with the public.
It also requires the DWP Secretary of State to issue guidance developed together with D/deaf BSL signers to departments on the promotion and facilitation of BSL.
Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Chloe Smith MP said she hoped the Bill would “transform the lives of D/deaf people across the country”.
She added: “The BSL Bill will 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”.
Rosie Cooper MP 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 make real progress fixing the injustices that they continue to face”, she added.
David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association, said: “We are extremely pleased to see the UK Parliament finally vote to recognise British Sign Language as a language of Great Britain in law today, after 19 long years of campaigning.
“Today is a historic day for the Deaf community in the UK, and an inspiration for other countries around the world where the national sign language has not yet been recognised in law.
“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.
“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”.
Figures from the British Deaf Association suggest that 151,000 people use BSL in the UK, 87,000 of whom are D/deaf.
As equality law is devolved in Northern Ireland, the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland, in recognition of the existence of both British and Irish Sign Language among the Northern Irish deaf community.
The UK government has said it would encourage similar legal provisions to be adopted in Northern Ireland in due course. Both BSL and ISL (Irish Sign Language) were officially recognised as minority languages in Northern Ireland in March 2004.
The BSL Bill does not impose any additional duties under the Equality Act 2010.