Campaign of the Year

BSL Act Now!

Coalition to ban virginity testing & hymenoplasty

David Buxton former Chair of BDA and leader of the BSL Act Now campaign leading the BSL Bill rally 2nd reading on 27 Jan 2022.

British Sign Language – now an official language of Great Britain.

The Campaign

The BSL Act Now! campaign was set up and led by the British Deaf Association (BDA) in March 2021 during the BDA’s annual Sign Language Week. It had been 18 years since British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised by the UK government as a language in its own right, but its status was still not confirmed in law.

The campaign called for BSL users to write to their MPs, asking them to introduce legislation in the Private Member’s Bill ballot. Nearly 90% of MPs received a letter from constituents who use BSL. In June 2021, Rosie Cooper MP’s name was drawn. By coincidence, she is a child of Deaf adults – her parents were both Deaf and her first language was BSL.

The BDA set up a consortium of organisations to help the Deaf community campaign for the passage of the BSL Bill through Parliament. These organisations, representing the diversity of the Deaf community in the UK, united in calling for a BSL Act to achieve legal status for British Sign Language.

awards

Rebecca Mansell, CEO of BDA on her first day in post, pointing towards Parliament during the 3rd reading BSL Bill rally 27 Jan 2022

At long last, our language has now been recognised by the UK Government. We must seize this opportunity to prepare the ground for the world we want, promote the nationwide learning of BSL, and protect our language to ensure it flourishes long into the future. The BSL Act is just the beginning of a long road ahead of us, however, we can do this with your support as BSL allies. Thank you.”

Rebecca Mansell, CEO of the British Deaf Association

awards

Rebecca Mansell, CEO of BDA on her first day in post, pointing towards Parliament during the 3rd reading BSL Bill rally 27 Jan 2022

At long last, our language has now been recognised by the UK Government. We must seize this opportunity to prepare the ground for the world we want, promote the nationwide learning of BSL, and protect our language to ensure it flourishes long into the future. The BSL Act is just the beginning of a long road ahead of us, however, we can do this with your support as BSL allies. Thank you.”

Rebecca Mansell, CEO of the British Deaf Association

The Change

After decades of campaigning, the British Sign Language Act finally passed into law on 28 April 2022 and came into force on 28 June 2022.

Rosie Cooper MP was the 20th MP pulled out of the Private Member’s Bill ballot. Private Member’s Bills receive time for debate in the order they are drawn. Being successful at number 20 would require enormous support and commitment from all sides of the House, as well as the Government, to pass.

In December 2021, Chloe Smith as Minister for Disabled People organised a roundtable meeting with the BSL Act Now! campaign leaders. Together Rosie Cooper and Chloe Smith worked together to push the Bill through Parliament with no opposition.  The fact that it succeeded from such an unpromising start made it a historic moment in the UK.

The Act will create greater recognition and understanding of BSL, and inclusion and equality for BSL users, by:

  • Legally recognising BSL as a language for England, Wales, and Scotland
  • Requiring government departments to report on how they are promoting and facilitating the use of BSL
  • Providing guidance to government departments and public bodies on how to meet the needs of people who use BSL as their first or preferred language.

The Future

In March 2023, following the passage of the BSL Act, the BDA launched a 10-year strategic vision called “Taking BSL Forward” #BSL2032. Over the next decade, it focuses on what this historic piece of legislation will mean in practice for Deaf people and how the Deaf community and non-Deaf decision-makers, stakeholders, and service providers can work together to build on the Act to improve the lives of thousands of Deaf people in the UK.

Who else was involved?

David Buxton, BDA’s former Chair of the Board of Trustees and leader of the BSL Act Now! campaign.