British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan 2017-2023: analysis of consultation responses

The report sets out the analysis of the public consultation on Scotland's draft British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan.

Executive Summary

Consultation on the draft BSL National Plan

The Scottish Government ran a public consultation on the draft BSL National Plan from 1 March – 31 May 2017. There was a very good response, with around 1,000 people attended around 90 consultation events. In addition, 157 standard consultation responses were received, 63 from groups or organisations and 94 from individual members of the public.

General reaction to the draft plan

The consultation asked whether or not people agreed with the actions under each of the goals (see the graph) and asked for suggestions about how they might be improved.

There was a very high level of support for the draft BSL National Plan. Across the ten goals, at least three quarters of people who responded agreed with the proposed actions. A small proportion said they disagreed with the proposed actions.

Do you think these are the right actions under this goal? (Yes, no or don't know)

Chart: Do you think these are the right actions under this goal? (Yes, no or don't know)

Common themes across all public services

There was a strong view that access to public services can and should be improved. There were many experiences of Deaf/Deafblind BSL users having difficulty communicating with or accessing public sector services. People felt that BSL users should be involved in developing new solutions where problems exist.

Most of the general comments about the draft National Plan were positive, and people felt that it should make a big difference to the lives of Deaf / Deafblind BSL users. Some common themes which people thought would improve the plan were often repeated throughout the consultation – these were:

1. Improving access to information and services for BSL users across all public services

2. Considering Deafblind BSL users throughout the plan.

3. Including actions that can be delivered in a shorter period of time than the six year life of the plan.

4. Securing the necessary funding and resources to deliver the actions.

5. Ensuring there are sufficient numbers of skilled BSL / English interpreters in Scotland.

6. Exploring how technology (such as online interpreting) can be used to improve access for BSL users.

7. Delivering training on BSL awareness and Deaf culture to key public sector staff.

8. Involving Deaf and Deafblind BSL users in creating solutions.

9. Developing guidance to help support delivery of the actions.

Children in their Early Years

The early years can be difficult but are critically important and people felt that a lot of support should be available at this time. People also suggested peer support for families who use BSL could be helpful, and that training for parent and family members to learn BSL should start as early as possible and should be free. Most people felt that children who use BSL should go to mainstream early years services with the right support in place.

  • Deaf babies and children need to have equal access to a range of positive experiences from birth.
  • Families with Deaf babies/children need information and practical support
  • Professionals – like health visitors, nursery workers and teachers – need to know more about BSL and Deaf culture so they can meet the needs of Deaf children and their families
  • Positive exposure to BSL for Deaf babies and their families is really important to help create a more equal environment where Deaf children can thrive.


There was a very strong view that education is the single most important issue for BSL users and that there was no reason why, with the right support, Deaf children cannot achieve what they want to. People felt that Deaf / Deafblind parents whose first or preferred language is BSL should have better access to school information and should be supported to become more involved in their child's education.

The transition from education to college or university study is very important in allowing someone to maximise their potential, but Deaf /Deafblind students who use BSL often feel isolated, and are not given enough information about the support available.

  • It is really important to encourage more Deaf people who use BSL to become school teachers.
  • Hearing teachers and support staff working with Deaf pupils need to be trained to a higher level of BSL.
  • Making BSL part of the school curriculum is crucial, so that more hearing pupils learn the language.
  • Having an agreed standard of support for students who use BSL, and a national advisory group to help colleges and universities to fulfil their obligations would be welcomed.


There was a strong view that employment not only provides an income but helps promote self-worth and independence. However, many Deaf / Deafblind BSL users struggle to find and retain jobs and are anxious about asking for support. It is important that Deaf / Deafblind BSL users can access the same opportunities in their chosen career. Opportunities should not be restricted by a lack of appropriate support.

  • BSL users should have the same opportunities to get into training and employment as people whose first language is English
  • Employment is an important part of having a positive future
  • Provision of interpreters in the workplace needs to be improved
  • Employers need a better understanding about BSL and how to support employees who use BSL
  • Employers and BSL users don't know enough about funding available to support BSL users needing interpreters (and other support) at work.

Health, mental health and social care

Many Deaf / Deafblind BSL users talked about very difficult health-related experiences where they had been unable to access good quality health information and appropriate services. A common theme was being unable to access the necessary support across a range of health issues and services, but in particular to prevent and then treat mental health problems.

  • There is insufficient access to health information and services in BSL and this impacts on people's health risks and outcomes.
  • People don't necessarily know where to find health information that is provided in BSL.
  • The use of technology to access health services is welcome but this should not replace one-to-one support.
  • Suitably qualified and experienced BSL/English interpreters should be provided at medical appointments.
  • Mental health is a big issue for people who use BSL, and better access to services to prevent and then treat mental illness is crucial.


Deaf / Deafblind BSL users often rely heavily on public transport, but this can be a difficult experience. Although there was general support for providing accessible information in transport hubs, people also suggested that information is needed on all public transport, with easy access to information at airports, stations, on buses and on ferries. In particular, there is a problem for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users when transport plans are disrupted.

Culture, Leisure, Sport and the Arts

Being able to access sports and leisure activities is important and can help improve physical and mental health, as well as providing good opportunities to meet other Deaf / Deafblind BSL users. Many people felt that tackling barriers to participation in mainstream sports should be the priority.


Some people felt that BSL users do not have fair and equal access to justice systems in Scotland. There have been a number of positive initiatives involving BSL users working on BSL access to civil and criminal justice and that any work carried out should build on this.


There was a strong view that it was very important for Deaf and Deafblind BSL users to be able to participate fully and actively engage in the democratic process. This includes being able to stand for elected office. While there was support for the actions to help BSL users be more actively involved in the democratic process, there was recognition that achieving these goals will be challenging.


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