Dawn Butler MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, addressed the Westminster Hall debate on Monday about an e-petition which calls for British Sign Language (BSL) to be part of the National Curriculum. Dawn, who has a level two qualification in BSL, used BSL in part during her contribution to the debate, which was covered by a BSL interpreter and also livestreamed online with subtitles.
The petition calling on BSL to be taught in schools was started by Wayne Barrow, campaigner and TV presenter and it was signed by over 31,000 people at the time of the debate. According to the British Deaf Association, there are an estimated 151,000 BSL users, 87,000 of whom are deaf.
The Labour government recognised BSL as an official language in 2003 but it is still yet to be given full legal status, and the 15 year anniversary of BSL being recognised will be on 18th March. Although British Sign Language is a recognised language in the UK, it is not available as a GCSE which can be taught in schools.
Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, said:
“I was pleased to take part in this important debate and I would like to thank the wonderful Wayne Barrow for starting this petition. I am passionate in my belief that equality is equality, you cannot pick and choose. I remember the first time I really spent time with two deaf people. I was at college and I learnt how to sign my name and say hello – I always felt I could have and should have done more.
I think this is our moment in time where we look at removing structural barriers in society – and ensuring that more people are taught BSL would be a step towards removing a barrier for deaf people. Yet it is a real shame that on a day when history was made at the Oscars, with The Silent Child winning best live action short film and actress Rachel Shenton using sign language in her acceptance speech, that this government failed to take the simple step of accepting BSL as a GCSE qualification.
15 years ago the Labour government took the first step in recognising BSL as a language in its own right. Now, 15 years later I think that it is time to take the next step in equality for users of BSL and I am delighted that the next Labour government will introduce legislation to give legal status to BSL through an Act of Parliament.”
Dawn has long campaigned to improve the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people. In March 2017, to celebrate the start of Sign Language Week 2017, Dawn became the first Member of Parliament to ever sign a question in the Commons using BSL when she pressed the government on whether they would give BSL full legal status as is afforded to other languages, which would give it further protection.
Following this campaign, Ms Butler signed the Labour Party manifesto using BSL and ensured that the 2017 Labour manifesto included a pledge to introduce a BSL Act, which would give BSL full legal status.