Sign language should be recognised as a first language in Wales

(Title Image: Exeter Deaf Academy)

Petitions Committee
Petition P-04-628: “To improve access to education and services in British Sign Language” (pdf)
Submitted by: Deffo! (a forum for young deaf people in Wales)
Signatures: 1,162
Published: 5th October 2018

A signed summary of the report is available on Youtube.

1. British Sign Language (BSL) should be recognised and supported as a minority language

Providing classes for relatives and friends of deaf or hard of hearing children was said to be a vital way to support families. A basic (level 1) BSL class costs around £300-per-person, rising to £1,200-1,600-per-person for more advanced level 3 classes.

BSL classes are usually delivered as part of adult education courses and are being squeezed as a result of cuts and responsibility mainly rests with local authorities. There is financial support available for families of deaf children to learn BSL – whether through local authorities or further education colleges – the Committee believed more could be done to treat BSL as a language/communications need.

They also recommended a national charter for the delivery of education and resources for deaf children, young people and their families is developed by the Welsh Government.

2. There should be opportunities to learn BSL in schools

To complicate things further, while BSL is used to communicate between deaf people and within the wider deaf community, the form of sign language taught to deaf children in schools is Sign Supported English (SSE).

Deffo! called for BSL to be taught on the national curriculum to deaf and non-deaf children and they were frustrated that they were unable to contribute to early consultations on developing the new curriculum/Donaldson reforms.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) raised the possibility of creating a GCSE first language sign language with the First Minister in January 2017 – who spoke to Qualifications Wales, who in turn “had not responded positively to his request”.

Subsequently, BSL has been included as part of the development of the new curriculum under the Literacy, Languages and Communication area – though the details are still being worked out.

3. It’s a communication issue, not a disabilities issue

Deffo! highlighted that use of BSL was often seen as being the case of a learning disability and not a language other than English, limiting their independence and their job prospects. Many teachers of the deaf were said to not hold BSL qualifications and Deffo! cited statistics which said average contact time with teachers of the deaf was often just 3 hours a week.

The Welsh Government have reminded local authorities that they have a duty to consider the needs of children with special education needs, including the provision of qualified staff where needed. However, Deffo! contested (again) that they should be treated as a linguistic minority, not necessarily as a disabled group.

The Welsh Government doesn’t have the power to legislate for any language other than Welsh, but they did say objectives could be set via existing equalities laws.

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