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Why I support the BSL Act - Lizzie Ward

Rasising awareness is essential

Monday 13 May
Why I support the BSL Act - Lizzie Ward

- May 13 at 09:00

Ten years ago, in 2003, the government officially recognised BSL as a language in its own right, after years of campaigning. This was a momentous victory – BSL would finally have the recognition it deserved as a language with its own structure, grammar and cultural significance. However, for many, this was not enough; instead of legislation protecting BSL and affording people who use BSL the same rights of access as someone using Welsh or Gaelic, for example, it felt to many like a token gesture. After all, what is the use of recognising a language if someone who uses that language doesn’t have an enforced right to qualified interpreting when going to hospital, in education or police stations?

My own deaf identity is what people might describe as being ‘between two worlds’ – the Deaf and the Hearing worlds. I appreciate and enjoy culture, English language and music within hearing culture, but I also appreciate Deaf arts, culture and history. Becoming proud of my own deaf identity started when I was a teenager; it required a lot of navigating and self-definition. My friends are a mix of hearing and deaf people; and two years ago I took the plunge with my sister to learn BSL Stage 2.

It took me a while to understand how empowered I felt when I learnt BSL – we were taught by a strong Deaf woman and I saw her as a role model. My job involves translating some articles from BSL into English, and I find having a working knowledge of BSL means that this is easier. Lipreading is tiring, and drains energy – signing and using BSL, depending on the situation, is often easier on the eyes. I still rely on text related access methods, but BSL is another means of access, which is often more immediate.

Why do I support the BSL Act? It’s because I believe that any means of raising awareness and highlighting the importance of access is essential. If the rights of BSL users are not enforced by legislation, then standards of access will continue to drop. They are already mediocre in some instances, where they should not be – in life or death situations or where a person’s right to privacy is overridden. Official channels let down people who use BSL countless times, and blame it on agencies or an interpreter not turning up. Just watching the stories of people on the Spit the Dummy page is enough evidence of a serious lack of understanding of how essential access is.

According to the BDA (The British Deaf Association) and the Department of Health’s latest GP Patients survey, there are an estimated 122,000 people who use BSL in the UK. The Spit the Dummy group has, at latest count, 11,087 members, with many posting videos and comments about their experiences, with a distinct feeling of empathy and solidarity. The campaign has shown the power of positive action; that when deaf people get together to make changes, we have enough power to make a difference.

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