Put sign language on statute books

The government has just recognised British Sign Language as the
fourth indigenous language of the UK. Until recently deaf people
have been denied access to our native sign language. Oppression or
discrimination does not have to be a planned act. Sometimes it is
sheer ignorance that oppresses. A major tool in oppression is the
eradication of the oppressed people’s language, culture and
identity and the imposition of a normalisation programme.

Deaf people, of all levels of hearing loss, are an unknown
oppressed group. Little is written in the media about their needs,
particularly those who have residual hearing – often called
“hard-of-hearing” people.

We now need a British Sign Language Act which would underpin our
education legislation, provide a gateway to a social peer group and
enable the standardisation of service delivery.

In addition, legislation would ensure that the status of BSL was
that of a language used in education, the legal system and the
establishment in the same way as the Welsh language has been. It
must be seen to have the same status as spoken languages and to
confer this status on deaf people.

Spoken languages are important in that they give access to the
hearing society, but they can never be efficient languages for deaf
people. It is the receptive element of spoken languages that is
largely missing, depending on levels of hearing loss.

Inclusive education for deaf children is not a recent phenomenon,
but was largely introduced in the 1950s with the advent of free NHS
hearing aids which were seen as a “miracle cure” in the same way as
cochlear implants are viewed now. The social and group identity of
deaf children is being eroded for the 90-97 per cent of deaf
children who attend mainstream education, resulting in lack of
confidence. And 61 per cent of deaf children in mainstream
education have mental health problems.

Bilingualism is proven to provide children with access to two
cultures and gives them skills that monolingual children do not
have, so they often do better in school and exams.

Why are deaf children, with all levels of deafness, being denied
this? We need legislation now to give strength to government

Jill Jones is project manager for the Deaf
Ex-Mainstreamers’ Group, a charity comprising deaf people who have
attended mainstream schools.

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