BSL Bill Passed

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It was a landmark decision that will affect Deaf generations to come. At 5.05pm on 17 September, the British Sign Language (BSL) (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously by all Parties in the Chamber in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. BSL users in Scotland from cradle to grave will be greatly affected by the BSL (Scotland) Bill. The new Act means British Deaf Sign Language users could migrate to Scotland to access better services. BDN celebrates the historic moment here.

The British Deaf Association joined a jubilant Deaf community in Scotland in celebrating the historic landmark which occurred last month.

On Thursday 17 September 2015 the British Sign Language (BSL) (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously by all Parties in the Chamber in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh.

This new Act will work towards improving the daily life of the Scottish Deaf population and could shake up where the Deaf community choose to call home.

BSL users in Scotland from the cradle to the grave will be greatly affected by the BSL (Scotland) Bill. This recognition of their first and preferred language will improve their access, inclusion and sense of belonging in Scotland. In terms of education, the younger generation of the Deaf community will now be entitled to equal opportunities, and therefore be able to cultivate similar beliefs about their future to their hearing peers which is a very important goal for BDA.

The BSL (Scotland) Bill will also positively impact quality of life in relation to health, the elderly, employment, leisure and arts. In terms of health, Deaf people will have better access to medical care, for example, hospital information leaflets will have to be translated into BSL. From a jobs and employment perspective, more Deaf people will be able to access work as BSL, and the use of BSL Interpreters, becomes more visible and more employers learn about relevant support programmes.

Avril Hepner, Mark Griffin MSP and Damian BarryThe BSL (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced by Mark Griffin MSP on the 29 October 2014, received support from MSPs, Deaf organisations and individuals across Scotland and importantly the Deaf Community.

In just weeks from now, the Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick MSP) will submit the Bill for Royal Assent and, once granted, it will become an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government and relevant public authorities will then be
required to develop a BSL national plan setting out how they will improve access to information in British Sign Language (BSL).

BDA Scotland has been heavily involved with the process from the start when the organisation was invited to respond to the Education and Culture committee panel in the Scottish Parliament in support of the Bill. The organisation is delighted to see this Bill successfully passed in the Scottish Parliament.

Avril Hepner, the BDA’s Community Development Manager in Scotland said: “Today is a momentous day for the Scottish Deaf Community. The success of the BSL (Scotland) Bill is a wonderful achievement and we would like to give special thanks to Mark Griffin MSP, Hilary Third of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee and everyone involved for their help. It is through this close collaboration and partnership that this momentous day has been made possible.

“I am proud, as a Scottish person, to see my country leading the way in making the first ever BSL Act in the UK. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to implement this and hope the rest of the UK follows suit.”

Read the BDA Press Release

Watch the video replay of Scottish Parliament BSL Bill:

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Who went?

It was estimated that more than 200 people were in attendance and it was noted that never before had the public gallery and overspill rooms been full. 

There were many different organisations such as the Deaf Sector Partnership [BDA Scotland, Deaf Action, Deaf Connections, Deafblind Scotland, and SCoD], Action on Hearing Loss, Voluntary Action Fund, Heriot-Watt University, Moray House School of Education – University of Edinburgh, to name a few. 

MSPs from all political parties were in favour of the Bill: Cara Hilton (Scottish Labour), Mary Scanlon (Scottish Conservative), Dennis Robertson (SNP), Rhoda Grant (Scottish Labour), Siobhan McMahon (Scottish Labour), Stewart Maxwell (Scottish Conservative), Liam McArthur (Scottish LibDem), Mark Griffin (Scottish Labour), Dr Alastair Allan (Learning and Languages Minister), Elaine Smith and Tricia Marwick (Deputy Presiding Officer).

They each delivered a seven-minute talk highlighting how important BSL as a language is to the Deaf Community of Scotland. They understood that it is more about a sense of belonging through language. They highlighted the integral part Social Media (Websites, Facebook, and Twitter) played in providing evidence to promote the BSL (Scotland) Bill. 

Finally, the last Bill, BSL (Scotland) Bill was brought forward and as it had been unanimously agreed by all MSPs passed with no need to vote. 

What was the atmosphere like before the vote?

The atmosphere was heightened and there was a tangible feeling of excitement. The attendees hung on every word spoken by MSPs.

There were large TV screens with two live interpreters, stage interpreters, and a few Deafblind interpreters – it was an excellent example of total access to communication.

Cara Hilton MSP was interrupted gently by Dennis Robertson MSP for speaking too fast. Dennis explained that BSL/English interpreters needed time and space to interpret. Cara lightly joked that it is her way of talking back home in her region. It is important to note that all MSPs used appropriate words and phrases when discussing BSL. That is unusual nowadays. They were applauded for that.

What was the atmosphere like after the result?

When the chairperson asked MSPs to SAY yes or no, they turned around on swinging chairs and looked at the audience. They then said YES! Some attendees were crying; others cheered. Most waved and clapped. See below the quote from See Hear:

“Pascale Maroney, Erika Jones, Jason our cameraman, Clive Mason and Sebastian Cunliffe were at the Scottish Parliament yesterday to film the historic passing of the BSL Bill. Sebastian said: ‘They said they had never heard such a roar in the Scottish Parliament… There wasn’t a dry eye left in the house when all was said and done. Tradition does not allow for clapping in the Scottish Parliament but when the BSL Bill was passed, everyone clapped for two long minutes, even the MSPs themselves. Nicola Sturgeon turned around from her seat at the front and applauded the public gallery full of the lucky deaf people here to witness this historical moment. It was hard to remain impartial today and I feel privileged to have been there in the flesh. Even our hearing cameraman was visibly moved’.”

What was the response of Mark Griffin MSP?

Mark Griffin MSP is a natural speaker. He recalled the incident of the Deaf patient at Tayside hospital who was isolated for 12 days in bed not knowing what was wrong with her. She requested BSL interpreters several times. 

What was the response from everyone else when the Bill was unanimously passed?

The audience cheered and clapped loudly. Even MSPs rose to their feet and applauded the success of the Bill!

What does this mean for the Scottish Deaf Community?

The Deaf Community of Scotland is in awe with the fact that they are leading in the UK and certainly wants to help and support other Deaf communities in England, NI and Wales to accomplish the same. 

What does this mean for the entire Deaf Community?

Once the Bill was passed, the announcement was shared with everyone worldwide. Deaf communities all over congratulated the Scottish Deaf community for this achievement.

Original Facebook group: British Sign Language Scotland Bill


ADDITIONAL MEDIA COVERAGE: STVThe Herald (Glasgow)The NationalEdinburgh ReporterBBCLimping Chicken.

Congratulations from from World Federation of the Deaf and European Union of the Deaf

Reaction to the passing of the BSL (Scotland) Bill from Scottish ParliamentIan Galloway and the community