Rose Is Right, British Sign Language Should Be Legally Recognised

The Strictly Come Dancing star is campaigning for BSL laws to change. Here's why it matters.
Actress Rose Ayling-Ellis is calling for BSL to be a recognised language.
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Actress Rose Ayling-Ellis is calling for BSL to be a recognised language.

Rose Ayling-Ellis, who was the first deaf person to compete on Strictly Come Dancing and win the show, has recently spoken up about British Sign Language (BSL).

The 27-year-old called for BSL to be recognised as an official language and be given legal status in the UK. The Eastenders star said the UK’s lack of familiarity with BSL poses a real problem for deaf people.

Ayling-Ellis told ITV’s This Morning: “It’s been recognised as a language, but it’s not been official. That becomes such a big problem.

“I have heard so many stories about deaf people going to a doctor appointment and they ask for an interpreter and they don’t refer them an interpreter, so they end up needing their child to translate, or a family member. That shouldn’t be.

“Because it’s not an official language, we can’t do anything about it.”

She has also worked alongside Labour MP Rosie Cooper to put forward the BSL Bill, which will be debated by MPs on Friday 28 January. Cooper has also grown up learning BSL as her parents are deaf.

BSL was recognised as an “official” language by the UK government in 2003, but it does not have legal protection. This bill, if passed, would change that, meaning public services would be legally required to follow guidance on how to put BSL in place.

The bill also asks for provision of a British Sign Language council to promote and encourage the use of BSL.

This move has been championed by 52-year-old Robert Adam, an assistant professor at Heriot-Watt University, who is deaf.

The Melbourne native who now lives in Scotland explains how difficult it can be for deaf people to navigate daily life without BSL interpreters.

“It’s quite routine for example for deaf people to go to accident and emergency and not be able to have an interpreter, or even for GP appointments,” he says. “How is it possible in this day and age for a language community not to have access in such life-important circumstances?

“Court cases have been known to have been postponed because people did not or could not book BSL interpreters.

“So we really need an Act so deaf people who use British Sign Language will have access to health, justice, employment, community participation and education assured in law.”

If the bill passes on Friday it has two more stages to pass before it can become law. Dr Adam is excited for the prospect.

“I think it is an amazing opportunity for British deaf communities to assert their place in modern British society. Deaf people have for too long had their sign language rights neglected and at times ignored,” he says.

“So I am really hopeful that the act will be passed. It would be such a big blow to deaf people everywhere if it wasn’t.”

BSL campaigners such as the British Deaf Association have been advocating for this for many years.

If the bill is passed, it would be a game-changer for many individuals and groups who have lobbied for it. The National Deaf Children’s Society would welcome the move.

Susan Daniels, chief executive of the group, tells HuffPost UK: “This is a very important milestone for thousands of deaf children who use British Sign Language. If the bill passes, it will send a powerful message that the culture and language of the deaf community is both truly valued and recognised in law.

“With a GCSE in British Sign Language now also in development, this could be a real turning point for deaf children in their fight for equality.

“It also brings us another step closer to a world where all deaf children get the support they’re entitled to. Once this happens, they will get the same chance as everyone else to succeed at school, hit their potential and show exactly how much they can offer the society they live in.”