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BSL Debate in Parliament highlights how far the Government has to go

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On Tuesday 17 October 2023, Parliament held a debate on the British Sign Language Report 2022 and the implementation of the British Sign Language Act 2022.

This was a chance for MPs from all parties to come and discuss progress – or lack of progress – that has been made in making information and public services accessible for deaf BSL users.

The debate was proposed by Chloe Smith MP, who said she wanted to make sure that the Bill would deliver on the promises made to the Deaf community when Parliament passed the BSL Bill into law last year, following campaigning by the BSL Act Now campaign.

Chloe Smith MP said:

“We all celebrated the British Sign Language Act and would all agree that hard work is needed to ensure that it is properly implemented and that our constituents benefit from the opportunities it presents.

Only with granular focus such as this and determined attention will we see the strides we need in early years, education, employment, healthcare, social care, business, the workplace and the community. There has been linguistic exclusion for too long, and we can do better.”

Where we are now

The debate highlighted the potential the BSL Act has to improve the lives of BSL users if it is implemented properly, and the need for further work to be done for the Government to make itself accessible to deaf BSL users.

Vicky Foxcroft, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, highlighted how disappointing the provision of BSL was shown to be in the BSL Report 2022 – which showed that 11 departments provided no communications in BSL and only 6 had used BSL in press conferences, social media, or Government websites to publicise activities or policies. She also pledged that Labour would deliver on the BSL Act commitments if they were to win the next election.

Lillian Greenwood MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Deafness highlighted RNID’s call to include Number 10’s provision of BSL communications in these BSL reports going forward. This feels especially important following the anger from the Deaf community when they were excluded from the Covid 19 briefings, highlighted by the ‘Where’s the Interpreter’ campaign.

The debate was attended by MPs from across the political spectrum, including Jim Shannon from the DUP who highlighted the work in Northern Ireland towards their own sign language legislation and Kirsty Blackman from the SNP who celebrated the progress that Scotland had made in the 8 years since it passed the Scottish BSL Act 2015.

Looking ahead

In response to the debate, the Minister for Disabled People, Thomas Pursglove, reiterated the Government’s commitment to reporting the provision of BSL communications across Government Departments annually for the next five years. This goes beyond what the BSL Act requires (every three years) and will hopefully provide a more accurate measure of the progress of implementing the Act.

The Minister also announced that we can expect the publication of the guidance under section three of the Act to be published in Summer 2024 with the next BSL report. This guidance is being developed by Government in partnership with the BSL Advisory Board.

The Government also responded to our calls – made by Lillian Greenwood MP – for better data collection on BSL communities. They also set out their intention to make sure that the two big statements that set out what they are doing across Government for disabled people – the National Disability Strategy and the Disability Action Plan – are properly joined up in how they collect data.

What we’ll do next

We hope that the Government will take steps to ensure that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) capture the experience of BSL users in their data collection. RNID will continue to push for the promises made to the Deaf community during the BSL Act Now campaign to be delivered as soon as possible, to ensure that BSL users have equal access to Government communications and wider society.

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