Members of the Legislative Assembly sign up to support the call for a sign language Bill.

To celebrate Sign Language Week, The British Deaf Association Northern Ireland (BDA NI) was delighted by the support shown yesterday in Stormont when Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), across all parties, signed a pledge calling for a British Sign Language / Irish Sign Language Bill in Northern Ireland.

The event, which was fully endorsed by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, saw MLAs publicly pledge their support calling for a British Sign Language / Irish Sign Language Bill.

A BSL / ISL Bill, if enacted, would empower Deaf people and improve their lives by removing direct and indirect discrimination. It would also increase knowledge of BSL / ISL and raise awareness of the issues affecting the Deaf community, ensuring that Deaf people across Northern Ireland are given better access to services.

The pledge event which was organised by Junior Ministers Emma Pengelly and Jennifer McCann involved MLAs learning how to sign some basic words including ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I pledge’ in both Irish Sign Language and British Sign Language.

Leading proceedings was Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Minister Carál Ní Chuilín who announced her intention to introduce a BSL/ISL Bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly at the World Federation of the Deaf reception in Belfast City Hall, last November.

Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said: “Sign language has a central role to play in our society in enabling the Deaf community to live in equality and have access to the services they expect and deserve. I am committed to doing all I can to establish a Sign Language Framework and it is timely that, in Sign Language Week, I will set out the way ahead for the framework to the Assembly. I commend the BDA on a fantastic initiative and I am sure it will help generate strong support for a Sign Language Bill.”

Dr Terry Riley, OBE, Chairman of the British Deaf Association said: 
“We are delighted that we have had so much wonderful support from MLAs at Stormont. This pledge is an important step in the right direction for the Deaf community in Northern Ireland. We hope the Assembly will introduce a BSL/ISL Bill under the next Parliament and allow Deaf people the rights they deserve. There is no doubt that a Bill of this kind (like the one introduced in Scotland last year) will raise awareness of Deaf equality, access and freedom of choice across Northern Ireland.”

Deaf people face many barriers when trying to access information or services, either through lack of awareness or language barriers. As a consequence, the British Deaf Association (BDA) is fully backing the call for a BSL/ISL Bill.

Damian Barry, BDA’s Director of Community Development and Operations, said:
This event today where MLA’s have signed a pledge to support the need for a BSL/ISL Bill is a positive indicator of good things to come that will greatly enhance the lives of Deaf people in Northern Ireland.”

Practical examples of how a proposed Bill could positively impact on the Northern Irish Deaf community include but are not limited to:

  • Health: Deaf people having better access to medical care and hospital information leaflets being translated into BSL or ISL

  • The elderly: Nursing homes and carers being legally required to communicate using BSL or ISL, which would greatly improve their quality of life and of care

  • Employment: More Deaf people being able to access work as BSL and BSL Interpreters become more visible and more employers learn about support programmes

  • Leisure & the arts: Legal requirements put in place to provide information in BSL or ISL - making concerts, theatre etc. more welcoming and accessible

  • Education: The younger Deaf community would be able to cultivate similar beliefs about their future to their hearing peers allowing for more equal opportunities

A BSL/ISL Bill would increase awareness of BSL and ISL throughout Northern Ireland, and encourage the Northern Ireland Assembly and other relevant public authorities to develop BSL / ISL action plans for improving access to information in sign language. In addition, the Bill would contribute to improving the daily life of the Northern Ireland Deaf population.   

The British Deaf Association is a registered charity which has been a pioneer and champion of Deaf people since it was founded in 1890. It is driven by two main aims: the promotion of British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) in Northern Ireland, and the right to bi-lingual education in the United Kingdom.  Each Sign Language is a language in its own right, separate and distinct from spoken English/Irish.  The organisation’s vision is one of Deaf Equality, Access and Freedom of Choice.

 

ABOVE: Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness with BDA Northern Ireland Community Development Manager, Majella McAteer holding BSL/ISL pledge

 

ABOVE: MLA Patsy McGlone with BDA Northern Ireland Community Development Manager, Majella McAteer

 

ABOVE: BDA Director of Community Development and Operations, Damian Barry with Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín holding the signed BSL/ISL pledge and Dr Terry Riley, OBE, BDA Chair