Today, the Scottish Government launches its BSL National Plan, which sets out the actions it aims to take to make Scotland a better place for those whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL).
In 2015, the Scottish Parliament passed the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act , which many Deaf people regarded as a positive step forward. However, the BSL National Plan can propose changes that can make a real difference to the lives of signers of all ages— including Scotland’s Deaf children and young people.
We think there are three actions the Plan could set out that would make a real difference to the rights of Deaf children and young people in Scotland, and we’ve listed these below.
Three calls for BSL in Scotland
One: Provide free access to BSL for children and families
In Scotland around 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, so it’s important that families can learn age appropriate BSL to communicate with their children.
Meanwhile, 80% of deaf young people in Scotland don’t use BSL, so opportunities should exist for all young people to learn the language. At the moment, only a small number of children have the chance to study BSL at school, and none can study it right the way through secondary.
Two: Support children and young people who access learning through BSL
If a child or young person uses BSL as their primary language, it’s their right to be taught in BSL. Where this happens, they should be supported by Communication Support Workers (CSWs) who can accurately interpret an English-speaking teacher. To do this, the CSWs need minimum levels of qualification in BSL.
Qualifications for people who work with deaf learners should be consistent across Scotland, including for Teachers of the Deaf and CSWs.
Three: Increase capacity of BSL interpreters
Scotland has a limited number of BSL interpreters, so young Deaf people often rely on family members to interpret for them. When this happens somewhere like a doctor’s surgery or job centre, however, it has implications for a young person’s right to privacy and confidentiality.
Because of this, there’s a clear need to increase the capacity of interpreters to meet the demands that the BSL Act places on them.
BSL and children’s rights
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is indivisible and interdependent. This means that if one right in it is impacted, others are also likely to be.
BSL is many children and young people in Scotland’s primary language, so specific rights in the UNCRC that relate to it are about the language a child or young person considers their own. These include:
- Article 29 , which has implications for teaching children in their own language. Children whose main or only language is BSL have the right to access quality education from someone who signs it proficiently and is a fully qualified teacher of the Deaf.
- Article 30 , which underlines a child’s right to use their own language to participate fully in community life.
Additionally, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic Religious and Linguistic Minorities says linguistic minorities – including, in Scotland and the UK, BSL signers – have the right to:
- enjoy their own culture without discrimination, and
- get good enough opportunities to learn their own language or to be instructed by people who use their own language.
About BSL in Scotland
British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised as an official language by the UK Government in 2003 and the Scottish Government in 2011, but progress in securing equal rights for Deaf people – including Deaf children and young people – has been slow.
In 2015, the Scottish Parliament passed the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act . Among other things, this:
- requires public authorities to publish BSL action plans,
- requires the Scottish Government to designate a Minister with lead responsibility for BSL, and
- provides a Performance Review process by which Ministers and public authorities can be held to account.