The British Deaf Association (BDA) is pleased to announce that the Right Honourable Chloe Smith MP has kindly agreed to become our Special Ambassador. As former Minister for Disabled People, she led the Government’s Parliamentary work on achieving the British Sign Language Act 2022 legislation and is renowned for her steadfast support of British Sign Language (BSL) and advocacy for the Deaf community.
In her capacity as a Special Ambassador, Chloe Smith will support the BDA's 10-year strategic vision, with a specific emphasis on breaking down barriers for deaf children and young people to access language in their early years. The BDA strongly believes that deaf children and young people in the UK have the right to acquire the languages – BSL (or Irish Sign Language in Northern Ireland) and English – that will enable them to thrive and grow into confident young people.
Chloe Smith's influence in this role will significantly contribute to addressing the historical and current challenges faced by BSL – which include stigmatising, marginalisation, ignorance, and oppression. As the Special Ambassador, Chloe will also take the lead in guiding the BDA’s campaign ambassadors, further amplifying the BDA's message and efforts to increase awareness and promote the inclusion of BSL in the UK’s language planning initiatives.
The BDA is deeply grateful to Chloe Smith for accepting this role, which highlights the importance of her work and influence in supporting the 87,000 Deaf BSL signers in the UK. Her expertise in politics, coupled with her dedication to our cause, will help raise the profile of BSL in the UK and make a lasting impact on our #TakingBSLForward campaign.
Chloe Smith says "I am honoured to have received recognition from the BDA on behalf of the Deaf community. I am proud to have worked with the BDA to establish legislation that legally recognises British Sign Language. This was the right thing to do towards creating a more inclusive and accessible society, improving the lives of deaf people, and helping public services to provide better services.
"The BSL Act carries a powerful symbolic message and practical powers that will aid in advancing Deaf people and help us overcome linguistic exclusion.
This accomplishment resulted from teamwork, and I am proud to have been appointed as the BDA's first Special Ambassador. I am excited to have this role, and even though I am leaving Parliament, I am personally committed to supporting the UK's Deaf community."
Head of Communications and Fundraising
Notes to Editors:
About the British Deaf Association
The British Deaf Association (BDA) is the UK’s only national organisation that represents Deaf people whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL) – or Irish Sign Language (ISL) in Northern Ireland.
The BDA was established in 1890 to fight for the right of Deaf children to use sign language in educational settings.
We were founded by Deaf people in 1890 following a devastating resolution at an 1880 global Conference on Deaf Education to ban deaf children from using sign language at school. The conference resolved to only teach deaf children through talking at them. This was easier for teachers of the deaf than learning sign language, and quickly spread around the world - but it made education fundamentally inaccessible for deaf children, who were then blamed for not listening well enough.
Decisions made by those educators a century and a half ago still shape Deaf people’s lives in Britain today. It was this event which gave birth to the BDA, and we have been fighting for equal rights for Deaf people ever since.
Our mission today is to protect, preserve and promote BSL and to campaign for our equal rights as a linguistic and cultural minority.
The BDA is the UK’s national representative at the World Federation of the Deaf, an international non-governmental organisation that represents 125 countries and holds consultative status in the United Nations. The BDA is also the UK’s national representative at the European Union of the Deaf, which represents 31 nations across Europe and holds participatory status with the Council of Europe. Through these organisations the BDA represents the UK at the United Nations, the European Disability Forum, the Council of Europe and other regional and global alliances.
The BDA also runs BDA Youth, who are members of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section and European Union of the Deaf Youth. BDA Youth represents and supports young Deaf people across the UK, at local, regional, national, and international levels.
About the BSL Act
The British Sign Language (BSL) Act 2022 ‘recognises British Sign Language as a language of England, Wales and Scotland; requires the Secretary of State to report on the promotion and facilitation of the use of British Sign Language by ministerial government departments; and requires guidance to be issued in relation to British Sign Language.’
The Bill’s sponsors were Rosie Cooper MP (Labour) in the House of Commons and Lord Holmes of Richmond (Conservative) in the House of Lords. The Act received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022.
About British Sign Language (BSL)
British Sign Language is a signed, visual language that uses hand and body movements as well as facial expressions and eye gaze to express meaning. It is a language in its own right with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax. BSL is not dependent upon or related to English and is used mainly by people who are Deaf, their families and friends, and interpreters, teachers and other professionals who work with Deaf people.
British Sign Language is not international – there are hundreds of different sign languages around the world. For example, the sign languages used in Ireland and the USA developed separately from BSL, while Australian, New Zealand and South African Sign Languages are historically related to BSL.
Just as with spoken languages, there are regional variations or ‘accents’ of BSL, although these are mutually intelligible. For example, the sign for ‘holiday’ has around 10 -12 sign variations depending upon the area of the UK you are in.
British Sign Language is a full, natural, living language that is part of a rich cultural heritage of the British Deaf community and was recognised in legislation by the BSL Act 2022 as a language of Great Britain.