British Sign Language (BSL) national plan 2023-2029: consultation analysis

The independent analysis by Alma Economics of the BSL National Plan 2023 to 2029 consultation, commissioned by Scottish Government.

Executive Summary

The Scottish Government launched a written consultation between 7 July 2023 and 3 September 2023, seeking stakeholders’ views on the draft British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan 2023-2029. Alma Economics was commissioned by the Scottish Government to analyse the responses to that consultation. This report provides an independent summary and, as such, does not represent the Scottish Government’s response.

The consultation asked a total of 31 questions, including 14 closed questions (e.g., receiving yes/ no/ don’t know responses, respondent type) and 17 open-text questions (receiving free text responses). Questions addressed the BSL National Plan 2023-2029’s key priorities and gathered views on the BSL National Plan 2023-2029 as a whole, as well as the government-funded Contact Scotland BSL online interpreting Video Relay Service.

Responses to the consultation were accepted through five formats, including (i) the Citizen Space online platform, (ii) email (including PDF attachments), (iii) post (hard copy responses would be scanned as PDFs), (iv) social media comments or tweets received in the Scottish Government media channels, and (v) by participating in a consultation community engagement event or focus group (outputs from these events are captured in four reports that inform this consultation analysis report), and submitting a response in BSL.

A total of 80 responses were received, 76 of which were submitted through Citizen Space and 4 were sent via email. A total of 43 community consultation events were held in addition to the consultation to allow BSL users to participate in a two-way dialogue in their own language and in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way to express their views. The community consultation events organised by stakeholders took place between 30 June 2023 and 3 September 2023.

Respondents included individuals, local councils, academic institutions, public body representatives (including executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), National Health Service (NHS), etc.), third sector service delivery organisations, and organisations representing the deaf, deafblind, and BSL communities.

Descriptive analysis was conducted on the closed-format questions, and thematic analysis was used to synthesise themes raised in the open-text questions and community consultation events’ reports. After themes were identified for each open-text question, 5 overarching themes, those most frequently appearing among open-text questions, were identified and outlined below. The overarching themes were raised by both individual and organisation respondents, as well as by BSL and non-BSL users.

Focus on clear, tangible, and measurable actions

Several respondents discussed the need for more clear, tangible, and measurable actions to be included in the BSL National Plan 2023-2029. This was frequently expressed across consultation responses and community events. Respondents wanted to see more detailed and clearly articulated actions for each key priority, described in plain English to maximise reader accessibility. They also highlighted the need for clarification on how each action will be measured and monitored, as well as who will be accountable for its implementation. A large minority believed that the previous BSL National Plan 2017-2023 had not sufficiently enacted all its stated actions, and sought increased efforts to implement these rather than conducting further research, such as another consultation. Ultimately, respondents were interested in a BSL National Plan 2023-2029 which will explicitly commit the Scottish Government to delivering on its promises.

Continuous collaboration with BSL users

Cutting across several themes and questions, respondents emphasised the importance of collaborating with the BSL community throughout the development and implementation of the BSL National Plan 2023-2029. Partnership and ongoing consultation with BSL representatives were expressed as a requirement to ensure that actions remain meaningful, beneficial, and relevant to all those involved. Respondents were wary of tokenistic or ‘tick-box’ actions, urging the Scottish Government to engage in continuous dialogue with the community, create opportunities for feedback over the duration of the BSL National Plan 2023-2029, and actively seek diverse opinions from various stakeholders (most notably the BSL community).

Equal opportunity and inclusion

For all respondents, ensuring equal access, opportunity, representation, and inclusion for all BSL users was understood as a fundamental right of Scottish citizens. Access to essential services, including healthcare, social care, mental health services, and transport, were considered most urgent by respondents. State-funded, high-quality BSL education was also a priority across all responses, particularly for BSL users and their families from the point of need. A large minority of respondents also highlighted that access should be extended to include culture, heritage, and the arts (such as sports, theatre, and the news), which, though instrumental in cultivating positive mental health, were typically considered lower priorities for the community within the BSL National Plan 2023-2029 and therefore not the primary focus of accessibility initiatives. The freedom to choose and make informed decisions about their communication preferences and access to public life was considered a key measure of equality.

Promote BSL as a language and culture

The promotion of BSL as both a language and a rich culture was important to respondents across all consultation responses and community events. Though support for increased language acquisition opportunities throughout Scotland was unanimous, respondents did not want BSL to be reduced to language alone. BSL users described their rich, vibrant, and unique culture, which they believed should be shared amongst the wider population. The benefits of this holistic approach were understood in two complementary ways: first, it promotes a greater understanding about the BSL community as a whole, positively impacting accessibility, inclusion, and awareness across public life, and second, visible celebration of BSL culture (including arts, historical figures, heritage, etc.) is a key source of pride and empowerment for the community, strengthening their sense of identity, inclusion, and belonging.

Inclusion of the whole D/deaf community

Embedded within multiple consultation responses was the concern that certain groups within the wider D/deaf community would be overlooked by the BSL National Plan 2023-2029. Though the BSL National Plan 2023-2029’s targeted efforts were welcomed, it was widely recognised that BSL users are only a subset of the entire D/deaf community and that experiences also varied significantly amongst BSL users themselves. Respondents stressed the importance of addressing this through an intersectional approach to understand the diverse experiences and needs within the BSL community. This includes paying particular attention to deafblind BSL users (whose needs and communication preferences vary from deaf BSL users) as well as differences across age, geographical region (including regional signs and dialects), gender, sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics. Any actions delivered as part of the BSL National Plan 2023-2029 should accurately reflect these nuances, ensuring that efforts to increase access and awareness benefit everyone equally. A small number of respondents also emphasised that BSL is not universally used as the primary method of communication amongst deaf people, and accessibility efforts should also consider this.



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