Dawn Butler, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Brent Central, made history in March by becoming the first ever Member of Parliament to ask a question in House of Commons using British Sign Language (BSL), when she pressed the Leader of the House of Commons to give BSL full legal status. Dawn is furthering the work of our Chairman Jeff McWhinney who back in 2003 was CEO of the British Deaf Association and involved in gaining UK Government recognition of British Sign Language as an official language.
Here Dawn discusses why we must all support deaf awareness week and why BSL accessibility is so important in the UK.
Why We Must All Support Deaf Awareness Week
By Dawn Butler
It’s Deaf Awareness Week and I will be joining with charities, schools and businesses across the country to mark it. As an ambassador for the Brent and Harrow United Deaf Club in north-west London, I know just how important this week is to the deaf community.
It is estimated that there are around 9 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing. These people need and deserve respect and equal rights that is why it is so important that we raise awareness for deafness, a common condition which is not easily seen.
This year I decided to launch a campaign on this issue and in March, I became the first ever Member of Parliament to ask a question in House of Commons using British Sign Language (BSL), when I pressed the Leader of the House of Commons to give BSL full legal status.
I asked the question to mark the 14th anniversary of the UK Government officially recognising BSL as a language in its own right. This was a positive step taken under a Labour government, and a date which must be celebrated every year, but there is still more to do.
There are an estimated 151,000 BSL users across the UK, 87,000 of whom are deaf. They deserve equal rights, yet unfortunately BSL still does not have full legal status as is afforded to other minority languages in the UK. This can and must be changed.
I am committed to passionately campaigning in this fight for equality. There are many positive steps that can be taken. One is to introduce BSL on the national curriculum. This would give BSL users the chance to access education in their first language.
St Michael’s Nursery, in my area of Brent, has set an example for others to follow. They are unique in that they teach their children, aged four and five, sign language. I believe other nurseries and schools can follow this great example and teach basic sign language.
Another step is making more information and services available in BSL. We must ensure that business and public services have the resources they need to allow deaf people to communicate, and remove obstacles deaf people face when going about their daily lives.
I hope that in the future a BSL Act will be introduced in Parliament to meet these needs and more. I have always been a passionate campaigner for equality throughout my life, and have always said that recognising one struggle does not detract from another.
This week, more than ever, we must all get behind this campaign and put all our efforts into achieving full equality for deaf people.
*The publishing of this article is in support of the campaign to advance BSL use in the UK and is not a reflection of political support or views of SignVideo or it’s associated staff and partners.
Image source – www.telegraph.co.uk