Language & Communication14th November 2014

Deaf Children, Hearing Parents and BSL

Mum of deaf children finds it impossible to find BSL tuition and faces anti BSL views from teacher of the deaf

by Sarah Lawrence

Whilst I recognise and support freedom of choice, as a Deaf woman whose first langauge is British Sign Language (BSL), a mainstay of my Deaf Friendly Business Consultancy is the teaching of BSL. When I received an email from the mum of two deaf children to ask where they could learn BSL, I should have been pleased - I wasn't.

The children were in primary school and mum had always been keen on them learning sign language so that they had different options on communication as they grew up. The problem is that born into a hearing family, no-one in the family could teach them and voice communication was proving problematic. Three years after mum had started looking for sign language courses for her children, she still had not found any. The bottom line is there is none, unless the family pay for a private tutor. 

In Wales, I wrote to the Welsh Assembly a couple of years ago to ask them why hearing parents of deaf children have to pay privately to learn BSL, a language that would help the parents communicate effectively wth their own children. The response I had simply said this is not a matter for the Welsh Assembly, it is up to Local Authorities to determine what support they will provide to the hearing parents of deaf children. In respect of helping them learn BSL, the answer is a short one - none!

Sadly, the mum of these two lovely children was feeling the brunt of this Welsh Assembly disinterest. Over to you mum, crack on and good luck!

I wonder if the author of the letter to me or the politicians behind that policy understand the potentially life-limiting outcome of their decision making. Worst still, I wonder if they realise that they and the rest of the UK are full signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability, which says that deaf children should have the opportunity to learn BSL.

So when mum contacted me to ask about her children learning sign, I should have been delighted, but I knew I would not have the answers she was looking for, or so I thought. A brief conversation later with a company I am working with to teach their staff BSL and we were able to make arrangements immediately. Villlage Hall booked days later and the BSL sessions were up and running. Wonderfully, these BSL sessions were planned around the family learning together, with the children, mum and dad and grandad all turning up for the first session.

Even more lovely was the attendance of some of the extended family as well, making this a true community project.

Amidst the positivity of these families learning together, one serious note came up that officials at the Welsh Assembly and UK Government should listen to very carefully. Keen to have her girls learning BSL as well as orally in school, mum talked to a teacher of the deaf about her attempts to find BSL tuition for the children. "That would be the equivalent of child abuse," the teacher replied! That will be the same local authority that the Welsh Assembly are happy to devolve responsibility to, for the well-being of deaf children in hearing families. Good decision!

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Language & Communication

14th November 2014