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Sign Language Week 2024 with early years campaign: “BSL In Our Hands”

Mar 18, 2024

The British Deaf Association (BDA) is proud to announce the launch of its groundbreaking “BSL In Our Hands” early years campaign to mark Sign Language Week 2024, which will take place from 18-24 March. The campaign’s message is clear: every deaf child in the UK deserves access to British Sign Language (BSL) or Irish Sign Language (ISL), in addition to English.

To kick off Sign Language Week 2024, the BDA will also host an exclusive Parliamentary reception on Monday 18 March, which will bring together influential figures, including Mims Davies, the Minister for Disabled People, MPs, Lords, Deaf CEOs, leading researchers, academics, our Campaign Ambassadors, and deaf children and their parents.

The aim of the event is to promote our campaign to ensure every deaf child and their family in the UK have the opportunity to learn to communicate with each other in sign language.

Sign Language Week 2024
Sign Language Week, celebrated annually in March since 2003, commemorates the UK Government’s recognition of BSL as a language in its own right on 18 March 2003. This year, Sign Language Week will focus on promoting BSL and ISL as indigenous languages of the UK and launching our Early Years campaign, “BSL In Our Hands”.

Public engagement
The BDA is encouraging the public to “Go Blue” during Sign Language Week by wearing turquoise to symbolise Deaf unity, pride, and support for BSL and ISL. The colours turquoise, navy blue and yellow come from the Deaf Flag, designed by Deafblind French artist Arnaud Balard, which represents deafhood, strength, spirit, and unity in Deaf communities around the world.

 You can express your support for the campaign by sharing your blue outfit on social media using #BlueOutforBSL / #BlueOutforISL and #SignLanguageWeek.

We will also be calling upon the public during Sign Language Week to write to their MP to urge them to support the “BSL In Our Hands” campaign.

Schools engagement
Following the success of last year’s campaign, the BDA is partnering with the BSL awarding body Signature to host the UK’s largest BSL lesson online with primary schools across the UK during Sign Language Week 2024. The lesson will be available online from 10am on Wednesday 20 March 2024.

The lesson will give schools the opportunity to learn BSL from a Deaf teacher, and will also provide wider benefits for children such as improved communication skills and confidence, new ways for them to express emotions, and an appreciation of the diverse cultures of the UK.

To find out more and sign up, visit: https://uk.surveymonkey.com/r/BSL_lesson

Corporate engagement 
For the first time, the BDA is also inviting companies to participate in Sign Language Week 2024 by taking part in free BSL lessons on 18 and 21 March. These lessons, taught by well-known Deaf TV presenter and qualified BSL teacher Yvonne Cobb, aim to enhance inclusive communication, promote team-building, and foster cultural awareness in the workplace.

To find out more, visit: https://signlanguageweek.org.uk/company-bsl-lesson

Campaign focus: Early Years
The “BSL In Our Hands” campaign centres on the crucial need for deaf children’s early access to BSL / ISL, recognising the formative years from birth to five as pivotal for language acquisition.

Ninety percent (90%) of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Due to the lack of national early years BSL / ISL provision for deaf children in the UK, the majority of parents will have little understanding of Deaf people’s lived experiences and next to no knowledge of how to communicate with their deaf baby.

Research has shown that language acquisition in the first five years of life is essential for a child’s cognitive development and lifelong wellbeing. Yet access to British Sign Language as part of an early and comprehensive support package is not currently provided by the UK Government, meaning many families are not able to communicate with their child during those crucial early years.

Our Early Years Position Statement: BSL In Our Hands
The “BSL In Our Hands” campaign focuses on 10 key principles:

  1. Linguistic and educational rights: Deaf children learning British Sign Language (BSL) or Irish Sign Language (ISL) in Northern Ireland should be celebrated for embracing a rich and dynamic language that is an integral part of their cultural identities.
  2. Language acquisition: Access to language in the first five years of life is essential for a child’s cognitive development and well-being.
  3. Language rights: It is imperative that deaf children’s linguistic and educational rights be respected and upheld, including their right to acquire both BSL or ISL alongside English.
  4. Challenging traditional binary choices: Traditional advice forcing parents to choose between sign language and spoken language is outdated and detrimental to the child’s linguistic and cognitive development. Sign language is essential for communication in the crucial early years of deaf children’s lives.
  5. Early BSL provision: Early access to sign language is not a privilege; it’s a necessity. The lack of national provision is a gap we are committed to close.
  6. Expertise and recognition: Deaf people are the experts in their own lives. Recognising this expertise is central to our service provision.
  7. Bilingual-bimodal future: Our mission is to ensure deaf children grow up with fluency in both BSL or ISL and English, fostering a strong, proud, Deaf identity.
  8. Championing Deaf Lives: Deaf lives are as full, rich, and rewarding as anyone else’s. We want to empower deaf children to become confident members of a thriving Deaf community.
  9. Government collaboration: Collaboration with the Government is essential to achieve change. Policies related to sign languages should be shaped in collaboration with Deaf people, led by the BDA as the organisation representing the BSL / ISL community in the UK.
  10. Addressing educational disparities: Low expectations of deaf children’s potential persist in our educational system. It’s time to address the widening gap in achievement. Deaf children deserve equitable education.”

 

Rebecca Mansell, Chief Executive of the British Deaf Association, said:
“Now that BSL has been recognised as an indigenous British language with the BSL Act 2022, we urge the UK national and devolved Governments to fund free access to high-quality sign language tuition to the families of all newly-diagnosed deaf children. It’s inconceivable that in 2024, these families should be forced to pay thousands of pounds to be able to communicate with their own child from birth, or else face a barrier to communication within their own home.

We want to challenge the longstanding but mistaken belief that the parents of deaf children must choose between either speech or sign for their child. Our position is that deaf children should have access to both English and BSL / ISL. There is no evidence whatsoever that learning to sign with your deaf child will have a negative effect on their language development; in fact, it’s the opposite!

Ensuring your family can all communicate fluently with your deaf child will not only boost their language acquisition, but it will also support their cognitive development and mental health and wellbeing, create vital bonds withing your family and build a solid foundation for your child’s lifelong identity as a member of the Deaf community.”

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