We’ve been celebrating Sign Language Week 2021! Sign Language Week is organised by the British Deaf Association every March, to celebrate when British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised as a language in the UK. At Deaf Action, we’re proud to be deaf-led, and have a commitment to BSL. Our team have shared some of the reasons that they’re proud to be part of the BSL community.
Why is BSL special to us?
Like Philip, many deaf* people are born into deaf families and grow up communicating through BSL. BSL is a beautiful language, and most importantly, it gives people that are born deaf access to a full and accessible language.
Mark was born into a hearing family. In his case, his family made a special effort to learn BSL which has helped them to communicate. BSL also brought Mark and his partner closer together – his partner didn’t know BSL when they met but has since learned so they can communicate easily.
The history of BSL
We spoke to deaf historian, John Hay, about the history of BSL. BSL has evolved over time, for example in fingerspelling. Today, for the letter ‘F’ we use two fingers from each hand, but previously, we would use one finger on top of two.
Signs have changed too. In the middle ages, monks used a silent language which was a gestural way of conveying words. But some of the monk’s signs are still used today. This sign for “bread” is still used by the Church for communion as it signifies “breaking bread”.
If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of BSL, visit Deaf History Scotland.
BSL (Scotland) Act 2015
The BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 was introduced in October 2015 and has led to huge progress for the deaf community in Scotland. Mark & Charlotte are proud to work with colleges & universities to develop their own BSL plans, ensuring their BSL students have a fully accessible experience while they are studying. They have also set up a Facebook group for deaf students to communicate and provide support amongst themselves, which can help to boost their confidence too.
Find out more about the BSL Facebook group for students here.
BSL in lockdown
Lockdown has been a challenge for everyone this past year, and deaf people are no different. Philip and Sophia have shared their experiences of why BSL has been useful in lockdown.
People have had to wear masks covering their mouths, which has meant some people have struggled to understand others. For BSL users, we have still been able to communicate to each other clearly despite wearing masks. Masks do not stop us communicating with other BSL users. We can even communicate through windows using BSL, which helps us to stay safe from Covid!
Here in Scotland, our First Minister’s briefings were provided with BSL interpreters – we’re glad Scotland is leading the way in accessibility.
Learning sign language
Like all languages and regional dialects, signs have many synonyms and variants. Often deaf people are asked ‘What is the sign for this word…?’ Charlotte tells us how the word ‘move’ has numerous sign variants. Is the person moving to a new house? Or is a car moving as it travels down the street? With this much diversity in our language, context is key.
We are proud to celebrate our BSL culture. Charlotte shares our unique culture – BSL users are very tactile we’re love to hug when we meet people, and we use a lot of facial expressions. We can tell a lot about a person just by knowing what school they attended! Every school comes with their own cultures and stories to share so it can be an important question.
Why are you proud to use BSL?
Our team at Deaf Action is made up of deaf and hearing staff, and we’re proud to be part of the BSL community. Lauren manages our Community Services team, including deaf and hearing staff. By using sign language, she can communicate with her whole team and build great working relationships.
Sophia was born deaf and comes from a deaf family. With BSL as a first language, communication wasn’t an issue.
“I take pride in having a strong cultural Deaf identity. BSL is such a beautiful and visual language in which I am very proud to use.”
If you’re proud to use BSL, share your stories with us! We’d love for you to get involved.