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BSL Act: Legal Recognition of Sign Language



Over the last year, Deaf people campaigned for the British Sign Language (BSL) Act 2022, which came into force on Tuesday, 28th June 2022. In this article, we will also discuss various legislation which passed in some other countries.


BSL Act 2022 in the United Kingdom


The British Deaf Association (BDA) led the BSL Act Now! Campaign. BDA worked collaboratively with other deaf organisations, who played an instrumental role in pushing for the recognition of BSL to achieve the legal recognition of BSL as a language for England, Wales, and Scotland. This collaborative effort brought together various organisations, individuals, and stakeholders to work towards the common goal of BSL recognition.


The BSL Act creates greater recognition and understanding of BSL and inclusion and equality for BSL users by legally recognising BSL as a language. It also guides government departments and public bodies in meeting the needs of people who use BSL as their first or preferred language. Additionally, it requires government departments to report on how they are promoting and facilitating the use of BSL.


The Act also establishes a non-statutory Advisory Board where representatives of the Deaf community can advise public services. This includes Craig Crowley, a co-chair of the BSL Advisory Board who is also on the investor and advisor board and deaf leadership board of Signapse. His presence on the advisory board will bring valuable insight and perspective to the government's efforts in promoting and facilitating the use of BSL and meeting the needs of people who use BSL as their first or preferred language.


Legislation in Other Countries


Official Recognition of Sign Languages in Switzerland

The Swiss parliament is working towards the recognition of sign languages. The motion to pass a law has been approved, and it will recognise the three Swiss sign languages: the Swiss-German sign language, the Langue de signes française for French speakers and the Lingua dei segni Italiana for Italian speakers. This will promote sign languages and equal opportunities in information, communication, political participation, services, education, work, culture and health.


Legislation in the United States

In the United States, the federal government does not recognise any spoken or signed language as an official language. However, California was the first state to pass a Language Equality & Acquisition for Deaf Kids - Kindergarten-Readiness (LEAD-K) law in 2015. The law has been supported by Nyle DiMarco, a prominent advocate for the rights of Deaf people. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) legally protects people with disabilities in areas of public life, including transportation and access to places of public accommodation.


Accessible Canada Act in Canada

Canada also has legislation to ensure greater inclusion of Canadians with disabilities. The Accessible Canada Act aims to realise a barrier-free Canada by 2040. This legislation provides that people with disabilities have equal access to information and communication. Communication with people with disabilities must be “as effective” as communication with others. Sign language interpretation must therefore be provided.


Final Thoughts


In conclusion, the BSL Act 2022 is a significant step forward for the Deaf community in the United Kingdom. It recognises BSL as a language and requires government departments to report on how they promote and facilitate the use of BSL. Other countries, such as Switzerland, the United States and Canada, also have legislation in place to ensure greater inclusion of people with disabilities and to promote the use of sign languages. However, there is still a long way to go before sign languages are fully recognised and supported in all countries. The BSL Act 2022 is a positive step towards achieving this goal.


Credits: The quote in the first image is a modification of “Hearing people can learn sign language. Deaf people cannot learn to hear” —Loni Friedmann

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