Born in 1980, Caroline O'Neill is a freelance researcher/producer/writer. Deaf since the age of five, she says she wants to be the first deafie on the moon.
BSL goes mainstream: the logical end?
16th April 2003
"The Government recognises that British Sign Language (BSL) is a language in its own right, regularly used by a significant number of people ... BSL is a visual-gestural language with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax."Andrew Smith explained that £1 million would be provided to start a "programme of initiatives to support the statement." Maria Eagle added that this money will be used to increase awareness of the "communication needs of deaf people who use BSL and increasing opportunities for people to study BSL at a professional level."
According to statistics from the British Deaf Association, BSL is the first or preferred language for 70,000 Deaf people in the UK. For this significant number of UK citizens the announcement is a turning point, yet is only the beginning of a long battle. It is by no means over.
BSL may now have been recognised as an official language by the UK Government, but it still has no force in law. The fight for total inclusion continues. A BSL march willl be taking place in London on 5 July. This has been organised by the Federation of Deaf People (FDP), who have tirelessly fought for Deaf Rights and are pioneers in the recognition of BSL.
The first step has been taken, but many more need to be made. Total inclusion of BSL as an official language would mean:
I can see all this happening one day: total inclusion for us all in mainstream society. BSL will be commonplace. I will no longer have problems ordering a drink in the pub, and will be able to go to an art gallery or museum whenever I feel like it. Ringing ahead and checking access will be a thing of the past.
So then, what will happen to the Deaf community when BSL eventually gets this official recognition ...?
I've thought long and hard about the possible scenarios and have included my most imaginative one here. It's possible that life as we know it could totally change and, some of us would say, not for the better. So here's my Orwellian look to the future. Read and criticise!
The ties that really bind us as a Deaf community are our language and culture, our history, the oppression and discrimination we face (or faced). It's all about our schools, our education, our campaigns for recognition and access.
When BSL is fully recognised the language will no longer be restricted to us only; it will become more widespread. Will the BSL language bond of the Deaf Community wither and die? I'm not talking about the language dying, I'm talking about our language dying.
Discrimination and oppression will no longer be a problem. Culture - well, we'll be integrated with AB's, won't we? How can there still be a Deaf Culture in such a world? Deaf schools will die out; Deaf children will be integrated with AB's and taught in a mainstream classroom using BSL, perhaps with an interpreter voicing over for the benefit of the slower signers!
We will no longer need to campaign for recognition and Deaf Rights. We'll have them all on the proverbial platter.
So what do YOU think? Is that what it will be like in ten years time? Is this a realistic possibility, or am I scaremongering? All opinions on a postcard to the messageboard please!
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