Sign language is a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expression and body language. It is used mainly by people who are Deaf or to support those who have a hearing loss. In the UK, the most common sign language used is British Sign Language (BSL). BSL has its own grammatical structure and syntax; as a language, it is not dependent upon or related to English. BSL was recognised by the British Government as a language on 18 March 2003.
There are some 150,000 Deaf adults and children in the UK who use BSL and for 70,000 of them, BSL is their preferred means of communication. The actual number of people using BSL on a daily basis is of course considerably higher when you consider the family, friends and colleagues of Deaf people who use BSL to communicate with them
Many people view sign language as a means of communication for someone who has been profoundly deaf from childhood. However, the hard facts are that deafness can impact anyone at any point in their life for any number of reasons. An ageing population also means that there are many people who face hearing loss later in life. There are currently 10 million people suffering from hearing loss in the UK and more than 800,000 are either severely or profoundly deaf.
Any form of disability can lead to social exclusion and isolation and deafness certainly has the potential to cause this problem. As a society, we have a responsibility to address this and encouraging the widespread use of an effective means of communication is one method that can be employed. BSL skills are increasingly relevant as our population ages.
Perception: "Sign language isn't that important. Deaf people can read and write".
Reality: English is not the first language of most deaf people, therefore they can not necessarily communicate in English.
Perception: "Sign language isn't widely used. There's no point in learning it."
Reality: There are a huge number of people who use BSL in their daily lives. Many hearing people also use BSL, making its use more common than Welsh and Gaelic.
Perception: "There isn't much use for BSL in my workplace".
Reality: Now, more than ever, organisations are looking to employ people who have the skills to communicate with their deaf customers and service users. You can be ahead of the game if you can communicate in BSL. Who knows what communication support your next employee or customer will need?
In accordance with the Equality Act 2010, in formal situations, a deaf BSL user should always be provided with a BSL/English interpreter. The interpreter will transfer meaning from BSL to English and vice versa. They use their skill and knowledge of the two languages and their understanding of any cultural differences between the people for whom they are interpreting, to transfer a message from one language into the other.
Perception: "Sign language is only of any use in face-to-face conversations".
Reality: Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, deaf people can now make and receive telephone calls in BSL by using Video Relay Service, Skype, etc.