Legal Recognition of British Sign Language

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2018 National Disabled Members' Conference
6 July 2018

Conference notes that although the UK government formally recognised British Sign Language (BSL) as a language in its own right in 2003, this did not give full legal status to BSL. Scotland is the only country in the UK to give BSL full legal status and to agree to promote its use. BSL still does not have full legal status in England and Wales and the same is true of BSL and Irish Sign Language (ISL) in Northern Ireland. BSL users are therefore being discriminated against and disadvantaged in three of the four constituent nations of the UK.

Conference recognises that Deaf native BSL users are a distinctive linguistic group whose rights should be protected. Achieving legal status means that BSL would be protected and promoted in a similar way to Welsh and Gaelic languages. Service providers would be required to produce information and support where appropriate in BSL, giving equal access to services for sign language users and removing many of the everyday barriers that they currently face, and which result in widespread discrimination.

Conference notes that a number of organisations are campaigning for a BSL Act for England, Wales and Northern Ireland that would achieve full legal recognition.

Conference therefore calls on the National Disabled Members Committee to raise awareness of this issue, to support the campaign for a BSL Act and to consider ways UNISON can further contribute to this campaign.