Plans to integrate sign language into everyday life

The Scottish government has announced plans to integrate the use of British Sign Language (BSL) into everyday life.

Measures include removing barriers to deaf people becoming teachers and enabling more pupils to learn BSL in school.

It will also address “equal access” to employment opportunities including apprenticeships and internships.

The government will give £1.3m to a partnership of hearing loss charities over the next three years.

What’s in the plan?

The national plan for people with hearing loss is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.

It has 70 actions ministers will take by 2020 to help deaf people in Scotland, including:

Removing barriers that prevent deaf people from becoming teachers
Developing Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) awards in BSL
Allowing more pupils to learn BSL in school
Guaranteeing government-funded employment schemes are accessible to deaf people
Improving ways of giving information in BSL at train stations and airports
Starting a steering group to help colleges and universities help deaf students
Delia Henry, director of Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, said the plan was a “starting point” in removing barriers for the 13,000 people who use BSL in Scotland.

She said people with hearing loss “often tell us about their communication needs not being met as BSL interpreters have not been provided when they’ve been looking for support at job centres or during health appointments”.

Scottish Government
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow offers the UK’s only degree course for deaf performers
Dr Terry Riley, chairman of the British Deaf Association, said the plan set “a brilliant example for the rest of the United Kingdom to follow”.

He added: “Scotland’s approach to promoting and supporting BSL has been highlighted as exemplary by the United Nations, and the Scottish government is to be congratulated.”

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Can deaf people be teachers?

The plan includes specific mention of making it easier for BSL users to become teachers.

There are no laws preventing deaf people becoming teachers, however, only a few currently work in Scotland.

Generally they use a BSL interpreter in the classroom to help them communicate with pupils.

Janis McDonald, chief officer at the Scottish Council on Deafness, said the problem was about access to good-quality education and qualifications.

She said deaf teachers were generally people who became deaf later in life rather than those who were born deaf and had BSL as their first language.

“Someone who only speaks BSL wouldn’t be able to pass a teaching exam because it would be delivered in English,” she said. “This means they can’t get a teaching qualification.

“It’s difficult to access further education when the reasonable adjustments are seen as costly or unreasonable.

“People should be able to be qualified in their own language.”

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‘They have dreams’

Derek Todd is from the Scottish Council on Deafness and supported the work of the ministerial advisory group which prepared the National Plan.

He told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that overcoming the language barrier would lead to more inclusion for deaf people, especially in education.

He said: “We try to encourage more people to learn BSL in schools and more hearing children to learn BSL to engage and socialise with deaf children.

“Deaf children can do anything, they have dreams. Education is one of the critical barriers for deaf children.

“Many deaf children leave school with no education or very little qualifications. We want to improve that with this National Plan.”

Early Years Minister Mark McDonald outlined the details of the plan to the Scottish Parliament.

He said: “Our long-term aim is ambitious – we want to bring about change that has a real, practical impact on the day-to-day lives of BSL users and which puts Scotland right up there as the best place in the world for BSL users to live and visit.

“This plan, which has been developed in partnership with the BSL National Advisory Group, reflects the priorities of deaf and deafblind BSL users in Scotland and I am confident that it will help us to make substantial progress towards achieving that ambition.”


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