BSL Act – Next steps in protecting and preserving our language

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2022 National Disabled Members' Conference
8 July 2022

Conference notes that the British Sign Language (BSL) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Labour’s Rosie Cooper MP in 2021, was passed by both the House of Commons and the Lords earlier this year before passing into law following Royal Assent.

The BSL Act will recognise BSL as a language of England, Wales and Scotland in its own right. It is also supported by a duty on the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to regularly report on what each relevant government department has done to promote or facilitate the use of British Sign Language in its communications with the public.

The Act further places a requirement on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to government departments and other public bodies on the promotion and facilitation of BSL. The guidance will be developed together with Deaf BSL users.

However, conference notes that there is still a long way to go to ensure BSL is preserved for future generations as a rich and meaningful first language for many Deaf people. We also need to be sure that the BSL Act is more than just a piece of paper and that it will have a real impact on ensuring Deaf people are fully include din society. For example, never again should a UK prime minster speak to the nation in a time of crisis without a live BSL interpreter as happened time and again during the Covid pandemic.

Conference believes that the BSL Act must come with a clear action plan on the steps government and public bodies will take to ensure Deaf people are able to participate fully in society and that our language is protected and preserved.

Conference therefore calls on the national disabled members committee to:

1)Join appropriate campaigns to hold the DWP to account for its new responsibilities under the BSL Act

2)Raise awareness of the new Act with UNISON members and develop guidance on how it might be used in practice to achieve equality for our Deaf members in accessing government and public services

3)Circulate UNISON’s Stewards’ Guide to representing Deaf members to regions and branches