What is the charter?

The BDA is asking local authorities and public services across the UK to sign up to the Charter for British Sign Language (BSL) and make five pledges to improve access and rights for Deaf BSL users.

What is the BSL Charter?

The Charter is designed as a vehicle to remove direct and indirect discrimination, empower local deaf communities and resolve conflicts between service providers and Deaf people. Its aim is to increase awareness of Deaf issues and BSL issues and provide better educational opportunities for Deaf children.

Who is the BSL Charter for?

When it was drafted in 2003, the BSL Charter was initially designed for Council services. But over recent years, it has expanded to incorporate health, police services,
housing, clinical commissioning groups, as well as a Deaf service provider. The BDA also created a Toolkit, outlining different expectations to meet each different public service needs.

How is the BSL Charter promoted to public services?

Each public service is given the BSL Charter and an accompanying document in its initial relationship-building phase. Demographic information is provided on each locality, outlining the numbers of Deaf residents who use BSL and how to resolve communication and access issues using the BSL Charter as the way to meet their
duties under the Equality Act 2010. Sometimes this happens over several meetings, and others may agree to sign the Charter instantly as they see the value of the support offered.

How do public services respond?

Each public service has their own strategic plan. All five pledges may not be a priority for them – so they may choose to either adopt them all or just sign up to only one pledge, as public services face budget cuts, restrictions or reductions in staffing levels.

A signing ceremony often marks the occasion, that is attended by officials and community members.

What happens after the Charter is signed?

This is when the hard work really begins. Firstly we set up a Charter Group or Partnership Working Group. The public services first job is to complete a Self Assessment which is done in conjunction with a local Deaf Forum or Action Group with the support of the BDA. Having local Deaf representatives at these meetings is critical. They play a vital part in contributing the views of the local Deaf community which can become part of the work the public service is doing. The BDA brings a national perspective and can bring in examples of good practice from other areas of the country – this creates an effective partnership.

The public service consults the BDA’s Toolkit and uses this as a checklist to see what they are already doing, what they have achieved and where the gaps might be. We hold regular meetings with the public service, representatives of the Deaf Forum or Action Group and the BDA.

There is an initial audit of each department. They identify what services they have, what they currently provide and identify areas that need development. All this information is collated and we create a three-year Action Plan. Some adaptations can be done quickly, at very little cost and other issues may be more complex and need more time to develop. 

Consulting the Deaf community

Pledge 5 is the consultation with the Deaf community – this is of vital importance. The public service consults with the Deaf community and identifies the needs and the priorities of the community. The Action Plan is amended to reflect the views and needs of the Community – this is then presented to the Deaf community to endorse. The overall aim is to create a working partnership between the public service and the Deaf community.

The five pledges

  1. Ensure access for Deaf people to information and services

    Pledge: Deaf people will get the same quality of provision, information and standards and the same right to be consulted as everyone else.

    This will make more Deaf people (include those who have problems with written information) aware of services and able to access these independently.

    It will also ensure compliance with the Equality Act 2010.

  2. Promote learning and high quality teaching of British Sign Language (BSL)

    Pledge: Family members, guardians and carers of deaf children and Deaf young people and local authority/public service employees will have access to BSL lessons from suitably qualified teachers.

    This will improve communication and bonding between parents/carers, children and siblings, reduce Deaf people’s isolation and improve relations between Deaf and hearing people.

  3. Support Deaf children and families

    Pledge: At the point of diagnosis of deafness, health and education providers will offer parents genuinely informed choices, including a bilingual/bicultural approach.

    This will increase Deaf people’s academic achievement and job opportunities and enhance family life by improving communication between children, parents/carers and siblings.

  4. Ensure staff working with Deaf people can communicate effectively in BSL

    Pledge: Customer-facing staff will have basic BSL skills. Specialist staff will have higher-level BSL skills so they can deliver good services to Deaf people without needing interpreters.

    This will improve customer satisfaction and reduce the need for BSL/English interpreters when providing specialist services for Deaf people.

  5. Consult with the local Deaf community on a regular basis

    Pledge: Deaf people should have the right to be consulted on services or changes to services that affect them and to have input into consultations alongside other forums and user groups.

    This will improve services for Deaf people, empower Deaf people and free them up to contribute more to the local community.


  Charter for British Sign Language  - Version 3 - (PDF Download)

See list of BSL Charter signatories

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