Andy Palmer: What New London Mayor Sadiq Khan means when he says he’ll implement a BSL Charter

Posted on May 7, 2016

Sadiq Khan has been elected Mayor of London with a landslide victory.

Khan also won the respect of the deaf community by posting a video of himself using British Sign Language and pledging to introduce a BSL Charter for all services under his direct control should he be elected.

Couldn’t more politicians ‘do a Khan’ and make videos to connect with deaf people? It’s a crying shame that Khan’s video seems so unusual and special for a major political figure. Even if you don’t agree with his politics, and most Londoners do, at least he took time to learn some BSL and reach out to the deaf people who, in England at least, reside in the most stagnant political backwater.

Even if all London’s deaf people voted as one bloc, no one would even notice that they did. Deaf people made no difference to the election result in London. There is no significant ‘Deaf Vote’.

So Khan reaching out to people who need sign language cannot be seen as electioneering. It’s not Cleggist pledge-making-and-breaking. If he didn’t bother make a pledge to deaf Londoners it wouldn’t make any difference to his chances what-so-ever. So his video was a noble act. He sees the moral good in better services for BSL users and wants to do something about it.

I remember the Tories refusal to produce their manifesto in BSL at the last general election but Labour did. The Tory campaign, led by the notorious Linton Crosby, couldn’t justify the time and expense on making a video just for the sake of winning the votes of deaf people.

And even if there was any benefit in winning ‘the Deaf vote’ they probably wouldn’t have bothered.

The deaf community, at least on social media, seems solidly on the left. Socially progressive and anti-austerity but with a noticeable tendency towards policies that lead to limits on immigration. It’s not worth the effort for the Tories.

The deaf community, at least if social media is to be believed, don’t seem to vote Tory.

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But back to Khan. Let’s take a look at what he pledged during the campaign. He said:

“If elected as your Mayor, I pledge that all public services under the direct control of the Mayor will implement the BSL charter to empower deaf people and remove discrimination.”

Just how good is that offer?

It’s worth pointing out which public services aren’t under the Mayor’s direct control so everyone is clear and doesn’t get disappointed.

He doesn’t control the NHS in London or most functions provided directly by the London Boroughs, like social care, leisure facilities, revenue collection, libraries or Education.

So expect no change with anything to do with those. Each Borough will have to implement their own charter and that’s not down to Khan. And so will the NHS and that’s not up to him either.

But he does have control over Transport for London (TfL) which runs the Underground, Overground rail and buses.

How a BSL charter could be implemented on the London transport network remains to be seen. The tube and buses are themselves a very visually based experience already.

I’d expect more staff being trained in deaf awareness and BSL. Video Relay services on enquiry telephone numbers or BSL video on websites. Maybe TV screens at major stations with live BSL updates of platform changes or other crucial verbally given information.

London won’t fundamentally change for deaf people now Khan is the Mayor – he doesn’t have the power – but the transport system could become a more deaf-friendly place.

Even so, now is the time for Khan to deliver on the promises he has made even if they mean much less than they seemed. He must constitute a BSL Charter Committee for London at the earliest opportunity to get things moving.

However, the new Mayor doesn’t need deaf votes to get re-elected and in the real-world of politics that means deaf Londoners could be waiting a long time for their charter. The people who got him signing in front of that camera in the first place will need to find a way to keep the pressure up now Khan is safely tucked away in City Hall.

Andy is the hearing father of a Deaf son, and is also a child of Deaf parents. He is Managing Director of  Cambridgeshire Deaf Association, runs Peterborough United’s deaf football teams and is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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Posted in: Andy Palmer