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The Lack Of Sign Language In Schools Is An Injustice For Young People, Deaf And Hearing

16/05/2017 17:16
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If you imagine a deaf person, you may well imagine someone using sign language, communicating through beautiful fluid gestures and facial expression. So it often surprises people that, even though I have been deaf since the age of four, I didn't learn to sign until I was in my twenties.

British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised by the government as a language in its own right in 2003. So why do most Brits still know so little about it?

A recent survey of young people, deaf and hearing, across the UK, found over 90% want to learn BSL. But at the minute, it's not on the national curriculum in England, there's no option to study it as a GCSE and private lessons are expensive, so most people don't get the chance.

If we are to break down the barriers to learning BSL, it has to be available in every school. As one of our national languages, surely everyone in the UK should have the chance to learn BSL, not just those who can pay for it.

Looking back, I wish I'd had the chance to learn BSL from an early age. I relied entirely on lip-reading to follow what people said, which required intense concentration all the time and left me exhausted at the end of the school day. It also meant I had to sit at the front of the class, so then I got teased for being a 'teacher's pet'.

If we'd learnt BSL at school, it could have really helped - not just academically but socially too. I would have had other tools to communicate, my classmates would have been deaf aware, we would all have understood one another better and life would have been less stressful.

The survey I mentioned earlier shows I'm not alone in this. People gave varied reasons for wanting to learn BSL, from social inclusion to personal communication skills. (As a deaf mother to hearing children, I can testify to the latter; my daughters were always praised at school for their clear communication.)

Some argued that people who speak English as a second language or struggle with literacy could benefit from studying BSL because it doesn't rely on reading and writing - which is particularly valid in our diverse multi-cultural society.

Bilingualism in any languages, signed or spoken, has been linked to a whole host of benefits - from better problem-solving and listening skills to more creative thinking and higher academic achievement. With language exam entries falling every year in schools across the UK, perhaps offering BSL alongside French or German would inspire and engage more students.

The lack of opportunities to learn BSL is not just a deaf issue; in fact, the survey found young people without hearing impairments were actually more interested in BSL. Over 90% of young people saying they want the chance to learn this language is a demand that the Department for Education must respond to.

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