Deaf News: British Deaf Association says census gives “misleading picture” of number of BSL users

Posted on January 31, 2013

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The British Deaf Association has said that the census results, which we reported on yesterday, gives a “wholly wrong impression” of the number of sign language users and should not be used to justify cuts. This is the second charity today to suggest the figures are misleading, after SignHealth’s statement this morning.

The BDA praised the census for recognising British Sign Language for first time but said that the BSL question was confusing and “tens of thousands” of BSL users were not counted.

In a statement on the BDA website, the charity says:

The British Deaf Association (BDA) believes that the census gives a misleading picture of the actual number of Deaf users of British Sign Language (BSL).

It is asking local authorities and health commissioners not to cut services on the basis of inadequate data.

The census identifies 15,000 people in England and Wales who declare BSL as their first language and 7,000 saying they use another sign language.

However, the Department of Health’s GP Patients survey estimates there are 122,000 BSL users – eight times as many.

BDA chief executive David Buxton said: “While we welcome the attempt to count BSL users for the first time, the census gives a wholly wrong impression of numbers. By asking the question confusingly, the census undercounted those for whom BSL is a first language. It also did not, of course, count the many tens of thousands of deaf people who use BSL alongside English.

“We are asking local authorities and health commissioners not to rely on the census when they plan services for Deaf people. It would be a tragedy if these misleading figures were used to justify cuts, resulting in Deaf people being further marginalised.

“There is already a shortage of BSL interpreters across the country and Deaf people are routinely denied access to health, education and employment.”

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