N.Ireland – Needs of deaf community not taken into account

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From the Irish News – Letters to the Editor. Published 22nd May 2018

We are in agreement with the contents of a letter from Arnold Carton (May 16) which points out that Belfast City Council has not properly taken into account the communication needs of the deaf community.

More importance is given to the officer for Irish language – this post is advertised to look after the needs of Irish speakers and requires fluency in both spoken and written Irish. In the other post there is no requirement that the person can communicate in sign language (Irish and British sign language). This raises questions about equality and respect.

Both Irish and British sign languages are indigenous languages used by Deaf people in Northern Ireland. Both are languages in their own right and are unrelated grammatically to either English or Irish spoken languages.

The local deaf community has been campaigning for decades for BSL/ISL legislation, similar to what has been achieved in Scotland (BSL Act 2015) and in Ireland (ISL Act 2017). It is also interesting to note that the United Nations has recently declared September 23 as International Sign Languages Day.

In 2001 the deaf community here welcomed the stated objective in the new Programme for Government to develop a policy on sign language. It was noted at the time that significant funding had been provided for both Irish Language and Ulster Scots but not for BSL/ISL – both of which could be considered as languages of need.

The majority of people here can choose to communicate in English, Irish or Ulster Scots. Deaf people, whose primary language is BSL or  ISL, do not have that choice. We do not have an issue with those who are seeking legislation for Irish language or Ulster Scots but believe that BSL/ISL, which are also languages in their own right, be given greater priority

BRIAN SYMINGTON and JOHN CARBERRY
authors of British and Irish Sign Languages – The Long Road to Recognition

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