History made at London’s City Hall as GLA supports BSL Charter

inside city hall

History made at London’s City Hall as GLA supports BSL Charter.

A significant moment in the short history of the BDA’s groundbreaking Charter for British Sign Language (BSL Charter) was witnessed by a large number of deaf people who were present at the iconic London City Hall building on Wednesday 2 March 2016 to see the Greater London Assembly pass a motion asking the Mayor, Boris Johnson,
to sign up to its five pledges.

This follows on from the signing of the BSL Charter by Birmingham City Council – the largest council in the UK. To date, a total of 30 organisations have signed up to the Charter. Thirteen are councils while a further 13 are health-related and two are police services. The last two are housing and a voluntary organisation.

What was particularly significant about the GLA passing the motion was that there was all party consensus. Proposed by Labour Assembly member (AM) Navin Shah, seconded by Conservative AM Andrew Boff and with all other parties giving their unanimous support. After each party representative spoke, deaf people present applauded each one.

asif iqbal navin shah paul redfernImproving services

As the GLA is responsible for police, transport, and fire and emergency services across London, the motion recognises that not enough is being done to ensure that deaf people who use BSL are included. For example, very few deaf people bother going to police stations as witnesses or as victims of crime because they expect there will be no one there who is able to use BSL. The BDA’s own Hate Crime report from Scotland (Access & Inclusion: A Report on Hate Crime in Scotland’s Deaf Community) reported that 84% who had contact with police did not have a good experience while 62% had not been provided with an interpreter. This is likely to be similar in London, so it is essential that the Metropolitan Police services improve their communication with deaf people.

Transport officials have recently installed new ‘Virtual Holographic Assistant’ stands at stations – which are inaccessible for deaf people. This means that for deaf people there is no change from the current white information circular stands that require you to speak and listen remotely. Hopefully the GLA motion will help officials think again about including deaf people.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were rescued by a fire and emergency operative who could use BSL?

National impact

It is often said that where London leads, the nation follows. If that is true, then if the BSL Charter is adopted by the Mayor for London, then we may be in for exciting times. What happens next is the same as for all the other signatories. The public declaration of commitment to the BSL Charter (the signing ceremony) is then followed by an action plan which is then implemented. Throughout the process, the Deaf community should be consulted both formally and informally to ensure there is value for money and that any changes made will be useful for the Deaf community.

Dr Terry Riley OBE (Chair of BDA) said: “Today is an important step in the right direction for the Deaf community. We hope the Mayor of London will implement the Charter as it will improve access and rights for deaf people who use BSL and encourage more consultation with the Deaf community living in the city. Democracy is the corner stone of our
legal system and, by supporting this BDA BSL Charter, the GLA has taken a gigantic step forward for deaf people’s equality and rights to participate, which will greatly enhance deaf people’s lives.”

Asif Iqbal, Trustee of the BDA added: “This is a momentous day in history and a breakthrough for many deaf Londoners. It was through sheer hard work with Navin Shah AM, who was supportive of Harrow Council’s BSL Charter, that led to the London Assembly passing a motion urging the Mayor of London to sign up to BSL. I’m thrilled at the success of this motion. Now the real hard work will begin as we look at how we can move forward with the implementation of this Charter. I hope the Mayor of London will take forward the London Assembly recommendation and embrace these changes and commit to engaging with deaf residents.”

deaf community outside city hallWhat is the BSL Charter?

The BDA is asking local authorities and public services across the UK to sign up to the Charter for British Sign Language (BSL) and make five pledges to improve access and rights for Deaf BSL users.

• Ensure better access to information and services

• Promote learning and teaching of BSL

• Support deaf children and families

• Ensuring staff can communicate effectively in BSL

• Consult with local Deaf community regularly

The Charter is designed as a vehicle to remove direct and indirect discrimination, empower local deaf communities and resolve conflicts between service providers and deaf people. Its aim is to increase awareness of Deaf issues and BSL issues and provide better educational opportunities for deaf children.

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