Scotland aims to become ‘best place in the world’ for deaf people

The Scottish Government is planning to put more emphasis on sign language in schools
The Scottish Government is planning to put more emphasis on sign language in schools
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Scottish school pupils will be encouraged to take sign language classes and sit new exams in the subject, under plans to make Scotland “the best place in the world” for deaf people.

More British Sign Language (BSL) users will also be encouraged to become school teachers, according to a national plan launched by the Scottish Government.

The strategy, which is the first of its kind in the UK, aims to ensure that sign language users are “fully involved in all aspects of daily and public life” north of the border.

As part of the plans, major transport hubs such as train stations and airports will also be expected to provide important information in BSL as they would for any other language.

Sign language interpreters will also be made more widely available across Scotland’s public services, making it easier for deaf people to hold senior positions.

The Scottish Government said the move could, for example, lead to BSL users becoming surgeons for the NHS, communicating with their patients through an interpreter.

The BSL National Plan sets out 70 actions ministers will take by 2020 to improve the lives of people who use sign language, backed by £1.3m of public funding.

The document notes that BSL has its own “grammar, syntax and vocabulary” as well as “dialects and rich variation” across the UK.

It adds: “Most importantly, it is a language which enables many of our deaf and deafblind citizens to learn, work, parent, be creative, live life to the full, and to make their contribution to our communities, our culture and our economy.”

In a statement at Holyrood, Childcare and Early Years Minister Mark McDonald said he hoped it would have a “real” and “practical” impact on BSL users.

“Our long term aim is ambitious: we want to make Scotland the best place in the world for people whose first or preferred language is BSL to live, work and visit,” he said.

“This means that deaf and deafblind BSL users will be fully involved in daily and public life in Scotland as active, healthy citizens and will be able to make informed choices about every aspect of their lives.”

According to the British Deaf Association more than 12,500 people use BSL in Scotland, where it has been recognised as an official language since 2011.

The group’s chair Dr Terry Riley welcomed the National Plan, saying it set a “brilliant example for the rest of the United Kingdom to follow”.

Derek Todd of the Scottish Council on Deafness, which helped to shape the strategy, said teaching it as a subject in schools would allow hearing children to socialise with their deaf peers.

“Deaf children can do anything, they have dreams,” he told the BBC. “Education is one of the critical barriers for deaf children. Many deaf children leave school with no education or very little qualifications. We want to improve that.”

The plan was also welcomed by opposition parties at Holyrood, with Conservative MSP Liz Smith saying it would lead to BSL users being “very much better served” by public bodies.

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