British Sign Language (BSL) enters final stages of legalisation journey

Government departments will be required to follow guidance on the implementation of BSL

British Sign Language (BSL) is on its way to becoming law in the UK, with a bill requiring public bodies to promote the language set to enter the House of Lords and enter the final stages of its legalisation journey.

MPs have already backed the British Sign Language Bill without a vote. Once the legislation, introduced by Labour MP Rosie Cooper and backed by the Government, is passed, BSL will become an official language in England, Wales and Scotland.

The proposed legislation, which Cooper has called a “testament to the perseverance of all deaf people and a celebration of deaf culture,” will require government departments to follow guidance on how BSL can be implemented across public services. However, no funds are set to be allocated for BSL promotion.

Rosie Cooper is a passionate advocate for the legalisation of BSL use as she grew up with deaf parents and has previously said that BSL was her first language. She has also supported an initiative for MPs to take lessons to learn BSL.

The enshrining of BSL in law marks a high point for disability inclusion, particularly for the deaf and hard of hearing community in the UK. Currently, around 250,000 people in the country use some form of BSL daily, according to the British Deaf Association.

While the 2010 Equality Act already ensures deaf people must have access to public services, the proposed law will hopefully help deliver equal access to these essential services.

Since the proposal was introduced on 16th June 2021, the ‘BSL Bill’ has received widespread support and backing in the political sphere, highlighting growing awareness around the need for greater accessibility and inclusion for deaf and hard of hearing people in public life. The BSL Bill passed the Second Reading stage on 28th January 2022 and received unanimous cross-party support. The Government has since confirmed its support via an unopposed third and final reading in the House of Commons.

Speaking on Friday 18th March, when the Bill was cleared, Cooper said: “This is a momentous day for the deaf community as exactly 19 years ago to the day British Sign Language was first recognised in a ministerial statement. Sadly for the deaf community, not a lot has changed.

“So, today, we’ve got the chance to finally commit that recognition to statute. The deaf community have been fighting their whole lives for this moment, and many of them are currently up there in Trafalgar Square watching this debate on a huge display.”

“The recognition of BSL is landmark acceptance of a language that for far too long has been overlooked and misunderstood. This Bill is a testament to the perseverance of all deaf people and a celebration of deaf culture.”

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