Lana Senchal: Why do deaf people have to pay to learn to use BSL?

Posted on May 9, 2012



Last week, I was in Leicester to see a signed theatre performance. While there, I got talking (in sign language) with a local elderly Deaf man. We happened to talk about food on cruises, when he signed “cigarette” and “fish” (for smoked salmon). This amusing use of sign got me thinking about the better signers from my BSL classes.

I feel sad because hearing people are learning to sign correctly in BSL classes, whereas Deaf people have not had an opportunity to learn BSL correctly at mainstream schools. This is also true of the younger generation of mainstreamed Deaf youngsters who only have Teaching Assistants & Communication Support Workers (CSW) some who only have a Level 2 qualification.

Deaf people who want to learn BSL properly have to pay for the courses, which are not cheap. This seems wrong to me, because Sign Language is our natural language. Why do Deaf adults/children who had/have no opportunity to learn BSL in schools have to pay after they leave school to improve their signing skills and to gain qualifications which are now compulsory in some jobs for deaf people? My partner teaches BSL in a hearing College for 6th form pupils and they only pay for their assessments!

I had to pay a few thousand pounds to gain my BSL teaching qualifications, even though I was born into a Deaf family and grew up in a strong London Deaf community. Even worse, I ended up teaching potential future interpreters in a level 6 class some commonly used signs which they did not know because they had not mixed with the Deaf community!

I would love to go on a BSL Linguistics course but it costs over £1,000 and with my Deaf background, I probably already know many of the aspects linking to language, so as the Hearies would get more benefit more from this course than me. Deaf people should pay a lower price because we have less to learn from these classes.

It’s not only Deaf people who feel restricted. I met a hard up hearing couple who have a Deaf young son and they are frustrated with paying for their Level 3 course –they felt that they should not pay the full amount because they have a Deaf son and they want to be able to communicate properly with him and his friends when he grows up.

This can’t be right because there is a difference between the financial rewards that people who take BSL courses to gain qualifications in their professions will get, (as they become teachers / CSW / notetakers / interpreters) compared to this couple who are taking this BSL course simply because they love their son and want the best for him.

It would be interesting to hear other comments from Deaf people who have had to pay full price for their BSL course because they do not have an opportunity to learn in schools like they do with compulsory subjects like English, Maths & Science etc. Hearing children who speak English take English GCSE exams to prove they have a good standard of English. Deaf people should be able to take BSL in the same way.

Lana is a BSL level 1 and 2 tutor working in Lewisham and Tower Hamlets – she loves London and her Shih Tzu dog. She enjoys reading books but sadly reads less now because she watches subtitled TV programmes. She always tries to avoid going out in the rain and her favourite food is calf liver with onions!

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Posted in: lana senchal, opinion