The British Deaf Association has been pressing for official governmental status for British Sign Language (BSL) since the early 1980s. This is a discussion document, which we commissioned as part of the BDA's commitment to achieving legal status of BSL and ISL. It will be the first in a series of reports; ratcheting up our campaign for a BSL and ISL Act.
The report calls for an end to policy apathy about the shocking levels of linguistic exclusion we face as individuals and as a community. The report outlines the shocking extent to which Deaf people are denied their civil rights. It provides case studies that show how the Equality Act and other legislation is not working as it is intended: we hope this will spur politicians into action.
The report highlights:
- How the Equality Act has neither been able to prevent Deaf people experiencing surgery without informed consent, nor significant harm and/or death from medical neglect and misdiagnosis
- How the Equality Act does nothing to ensure equal treatment for Deaf and hearing prisoners. Deaf prisoners endure extreme isolation- we already have a case of suicide of a Deaf prisoner in this situations
- The burden placed on family members to provide unqualified language brokering in medical and educational settings, and calls for statutory recognition of the interpreting profession to end this abuse.
- Examples of forced unpaid child labour in schools where teachers have asked Deaf children to relay-interpret without care for the impact this has on the quality of their education.
The report presents research about the kind of legal status accorded to sign languages in other countries. It outlines good practice in New Zealand, Finland, Austria and Hungary and calls on the government to learn from this good practice. The report also reminds the government of the need to implement existing UN legal instruments, which require it to recognise our sign languages and safeguard the cultural and linguistic diversity of the sign language community.
The report draws on consultations with our members that took place in Edinburgh, London and Cardiff and calls for:
- a total rethink of Deaf education;
- more effective implementation of the Equality Act, and a public enquiry into its failings;
- an end to the second class citizenship accorded to Deaf people;
- civil rights;
- legal status for BSL and ISL;
- support and promotion of our sign languages culture and heritage;
- including the BDA and sign language communities in discussions of any policies that have an effect on us.
The evidence in this report is strong and the BDA will not rest until change happens. Following the launch of the report this week at the BDA symposium 'Legal Status for BSL and ISL: strengthening our rights' we will initiate a series of strategy meetings to ensure we maintain the momentum to achieve legal status of BSL and ISL and protect and promote Deaf culture and heritage. Now we need united concerted action based on a human rights approach to make change happen.