Prof. Graham Turner: The BSL (Scotland) Bill. Let’s *do* this thing! (BSL)

Posted on December 5, 2014

For a BSL translation of this article, click play below, or scroll down to read this in English.

If you want a better world for BSL users in future, please keep reading.

As every reader of Limping Chicken surely knows, a BSL Bill has been proposed in Scotland.

If you don’t live in Scotland DO NOT LOOK AWAY – this also affects YOU. Why?

Because politicians supporting BSL in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are watching the Scottish Bill VERY carefully. They know, if it passes, it will be 100 times easier to get BSL properly recognised by the Westminster parliament, too. The House of Commons will not want to ‘fall behind’ what is happening in Scotland. It will not make them look very clever..

So the BEST thing that could happen for signers across the whole UK is a successful BSL Bill in Scotland. If every BSL user in the UK helps, it will be much easier to bring the Bill into LAW.

So how can YOU help?

First, the Scottish authorities have asked for evidence from the public. You can make your interest in the Bill known – the Limping Chicken tells you how to do this here (and now you can also use the Facebook group)

Second, you can contact everybody you know who cares about BSL – from children to pensioners – and help them to send in comments, too. (Anyone who remembers the ‘Tell Sid’ TV advertising campaign when Margaret Thatcher sold shares in British Gas in 1986 will get the idea. Tell your friends, and we can make this a WHOLE COMMUNITY response.) That will show the politicians how much BSL matters to us.

Third, just keep TALKING about the Bill so that it stays in the spotlight. We have to show them that we are watching closely. We have to let them know that we care deeply about GETTING THIS RIGHT.

If you want, you can find out all the details of the Bill here (in English)or here (in BSL).

But there’s loads of information there, and it is really boring to read/watch! Here’s my personal summary and comments:

  1. There is NO commitment to spend billions of pounds on transforming Deaf lives. Sorry about that, but governments everywhere say they have very little money at the moment.
  1. BUT – the Bill is VERY GOOD at making the authorities shift their thinking about BSL. It is like a clever move in a game of chess. Once they accept the Bill, they will see BSL users in a way that will have good outcomes for the community.
  1. The biggest change starts with the title of the Bill. The ones that have been proposed in the past have been about things like “communication support for deaf people”. This Bill is very clear – it’s ONLY about BSL. That doesn’t mean that means deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing people who don’t sign are being ignored: a new Sensory Impairment Strategy has been published in Scotland at the same time covering those matters. The BSL issues and other communication issues have been separated to make progress FOR BOTH GROUPS easier.
  1. The BSL Bill says that the Scottish Government will publish regular, detailed National Plans on BSL. The plans will make sure that people have the right to use BSL.
  1. The Bill gives a long list of organisations – health, legal, etc – which must also have their OWN up-to-date plans for supporting BSL use in their work.
  1. The Bill doesn’t say exactly what each of these organisations should DO. It says they have to pay ongoing attention to this matter. And they have set their targets in a way that fits the aims of the latest National Plan.
  1. All of these organisations must also CONSULT Deaf people regularly about what they should be doing. They will have to prove that they are really LISTENING to BSL users.
  1. Examples of good and bad practice will be published regularly. So it will be easy to ‘name and shame’ organisations with a bad attitude to BSL, and to show them what they SHOULD be doing.

Some things will need to be tightened up. For example, if the Bill is going to be successful, a lot will depend on how they check what the public service organisations actually DO (not what they PLAN).Once all the plans become actions, how will they challenge bad practice and missed targets?

And how is the Government’s National Plan going to be drawn up? Will there be a committee of BSL users to decide? (Can you imagine a committee for Gaelic that was dominated by non-Gaelic speakers?) The Bill doesn’t say at the moment.

That’s about it. It doesn’t promise miracles – but it’s the best chance we’ve got to move things forward, and it won’t come again soon. It’s politics, folks. We have to think ahead. Yes, it’s a shame we can’t change the world overnight. But if we asked for too much, the Bill would fail, and we would get nothing.

As it is, this is a clever Bill, with one eye on the long term. It has a great chance of succeeding. If it does, it will establish a solid platform on which real, deep and significant changes can be built. We have to help them get the details right.

In fact, here in Edinburgh, I can already see that the very IDEA of this Bill is having an effect. People know that passing this Bill will, over time, create a demand for widespread BSL skills and more access to interpreters. So they’re already thinking about how to deliver that if it passes. They know there will have to be LOTS more dialogue with the BSL community. So they’re thinking about how to make that work.

In other words, like never before in the last 25 years, THEY WANT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT BSL USERS ARE TELLING THEM. Let’s give them what they want! If the Deaf community doesn’t show interest in the Bill, hearing people will say ‘the Deaf don’t care, so why should we bother?’ Stay quiet and invisible now, and we are inviting them to ignore us.

Let’s *do* this thing!

Professor Graham Turner is Chair of Translation & Interpreting Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. He leads the team now running the first ever degree course in BSL in Scotland.

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