I am delighted to support the International Week of the Deaf and it is important that we use this week to promote positive change.
Many perhaps will not know, but the International Week of the Deaf is an initiative of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) first launched in 1958 and is now celebrated annually by the deaf community. It is an important week for people from all around the world, bringing people together to raise awareness about the rights of the some 70 million deaf people around the world.
This is a community which is underappreciated and often underrepresented and that is why this week we must celebrate the achievements of the deaf community who are often not recognised enough. It is vital that we give deaf people the right support to enable the full inclusion of sign language in everyday life.
I have long campaigned to give British Sign Language (BSL) full legal status as is afforded to other languages. It is so important that it is given parity with other languages. Using my level two qualification in BSL, I asked the first ever question using BSL in the House of Commons in March to stand up for BSL users, to ask whether the government would give BSL the recognition it deserves.
It is disappointing that the government chose not to make this commitment. There is a significant BSL community in the UK with an estimated 151,000 BSL users, 87,000 of whom are deaf. These people deserve the right to communicate and go about their lives using their preferred language.
The deaf community also faces other significant disadvantages. This includes in employment, where they are often discriminated against, and there are also insufficient services for deaf people in going about their daily lives. As an ambassador for the Brent and Harrow United Deaf Club, I hear these stories too often. One step that we can take is to promote BSL as much as possible.
I was proud that the Labour Party gave a commitment to give BSL full legal status in this year’s election manifesto. We have a proud and successful record on equalities and a Labour government would bring forward a BSL Act to give it equal status and improve the rights of deaf people.
I have long believed that Parliament should be more reflective of the society it seeks to represent and Parliament must be more accessible for deaf people. I have therefore written to the Commons Speaker, himself a moderniser who has taken great steps for equality, to enquire about how best we can remove barriers preventing deaf people from properly engaging with their representatives. Rosie Cooper MP’s first language is BSL, as she lip reads and speaks she doesn’t use it in the chamber, but we must prepare Parliament for a BSL user in the House.
I am also humbled to have been nominated this year for the Patchwork Foundation’s prestigious MP of the Year Award 2017, in part due to my campaign on British Sign Language. It is so important that we continue this campaign and also look at other steps, such as promoting use of BSL. I greatly admire St. Michael’s Nursery in my area of Brent for example, for teaching basic BSL to their children.
I have always believed that equality is equality, you cannot pick and choose. I will therefore continue to campaign for the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people as passionately as for every other person in society, no matter their background, ethnicity, gender, disability or other characteristic.
The International Week of the Deaf highlights the fact that together we must take strong action to end the inequality facing the deaf community. I hope that MPs, members of the public, organisations and others will join in celebrating this important week, and join the important campaign to give British Sign Language full legal status which it deserves.
This article was originally published on 21 September 2017 on Huff Post and can be found here.