I hope the BSL bill will be the key to open more doors

On Friday 18 March, the third reading of the British Sign Language (BSL) bill will take place in Parliament. Sense Campaigner of the Year, Katie Redstar, explains why the upcoming final reading of the bill is so important.

I am deaf and visually impaired and live in Leeds with my one-year-old son. Last year, I was thrilled to be given Sense’s Campaigner of the Year award for my campaigning during the pandemic.

In 2021, I took the government to court for not providing accessible communications and information for disabled people during Covid-19. This included not providing British Sign Language interpreters at daily briefings and led to many disabled people being completely cut off from updates and news about the global pandemic. It created more fear and anxiety for many. I was pleased to win the case, but this situation was unacceptable and shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

The world still feels like an inaccessible place

As a deaf BSL user in 2022, to me, the world still feels like an inaccessible place. Even though more and more people are learning BSL as a result of Rose Ayling-Ellis starring on Strictly Come Dancing, we still have a long way to go.

I’m grateful for those people who are taking the time to learn BSL. However, we need to do more to change perceptions. Our society still perceives BSL users as having something wrong with us. It’s sometimes seen as rude and unnecessary.

Some people have said to me in the past that deaf people should learn to listen and talk like the old days. We can’t train our ears to hear, but we can be inclusive through the beautiful use of BSL.

The passing of the BSL bill will be a big step forward

A big step forward in changing attitudes towards BSL will be the passing of the British Sign Language bill. The bill calls for BSL to be legally recognised as an official language. Without this legal status, Deaf people are unable to access essential information and services in our first language. The bill has already passed two readings in Parliament and today, the bill will be read for the third and final time in the House of Commons, before it goes to the House of Lords.

I’m hoping it’s the key to open many more doors for BSL users and will ensure we have proper access to services and support. At the moment, BSL doesn’t have a legal status and this means companies and other places don’t have to put anything formal in place to support BSL users.

It’s important that we have full equal access to information that’s available to the public and that we are not treated as an afterthought or pushed aside. BSL is a beautiful visual language that benefits more than just the deaf.