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.

6. Summary of themes from unstructured responses

A small number of responses submitted via email did not follow the consultation’s structure and did not directly answer the consultation’s questions. These ‘unstructured responses’ commented widely on topics covered in the consultation document. Additionally, a small number of email responses and reports from consultation community events were ‘partially structured’, containing some sections that directly answered the consultation’s questions and sections with a wider discussion of the consultation document that was not directly linked to specific questions. There were two unstructured responses to this consultation and three partially structured responses. There was no consensus amongst these responses to the consultation, however, all relevant themes identified are presented below.

Need for accountability and clear commitment to funding and monitoring the actions in the BSL National Plan 2023 – 2029

Mirroring an overarching theme often mentioned across responses to this consultation, a small number of respondents discussed the importance of clearer, direct, and more detailed language around the actions in the BSL National Plan 2023-2029 to ensure there is a commitment to delivering the actions proposed and monitoring the outcomes of the BSL National Plan 2023-2029. Furthermore, some community event participants expressed that there was not enough accountability and information sharing from the Scottish Government regarding the outcomes of the previous BSL National Plan 2017-2023. The same respondents felt there was limited progress in the actions put forth in the BSL National Plan 2017-2023 and, hence, were not supportive of reducing the number of actions in the new BSL National Plan 2023-2029.

“Greater clarity in the articulation of these actions and who has responsibility for them will help with monitoring progress in future.” (Organisation)

BSL National Plan 2023-2029 and the consultation are not easy to understand

A small number of respondents, mainly amongst participants in community events, mentioned they found it difficult to understand and engage with the consultation topics. Some cited having limited background information about the actions and the BSL Act. Others stressed the importance of ensuring the consultation questions translate well from BSL to English.

“There should be a booklet or glossary for us to read before voting for each priority and action plans.” (Community Event)

“There should be a working group to look at how the questions would be translated in BSL – a bit like the National Advisory Group (NAG) but a BSL working group to monitor the translations and check if Deaf club members understand them.” (Community Event)

Improvement in BSL education and training provision

Respondents in this theme discussed the need to support BSL learning provision. Various areas for improvement and suggestions were discussed, including support for early intervention, the importance of preventing language deprivation, and the need for free BSL courses for deaf and deafblind children and families. It was also mentioned that there is a shortage of BSL teachers in Scotland and that hearing professionals may not be adequately trained in BSL, while there are few opportunities for courses that would support BSL users to become BSL teachers. Respondents stressed that there may currently be bias towards hearing-led approaches over BSL teaching. Finally, it was mentioned that the current BSL National Plan 2023-2029 does not cover children and young people who may not have received appropriate BSL education provision in the past.

“[…] language acquisition is an essential aspect of any language planning activity, and it is also essential that language deprivation in deaf and deafblind children be prevented. […] Hearing professionals who work with deaf children are typically fluent in spoken language and may have a communication bias towards spoken language. This bias may lead them to believe that spoken language is superior and more desirable, overlooking the benefits of BSL in supporting communication with Deaf and deafblind children and their families. Additionally, these hearing professionals often do not receive adequate training or education about sign languages and Deaf culture during their professional development. This lack of exposure can contribute to a lack of understanding and appreciation for BSL. […] Finally, there also needs to be provision of free BSL courses for deaf and deafblind children and their families […]” (Organisation)

Additional themes on accessibility and inclusivity

We also present some additional themes mentioned by a small number of respondents. These included: (i) need for supporting improvements in the justice system for BSL users, (ii) the promotion of deaf culture through a ‘Deaf Gain’ approach, recognising what is gained through the use of BSL (such as deaf culture, community, and history), and (iii) the importance of understanding that BSL is used by different groups who may have different experiences with the language (e.g. deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing).

“The group is content with the action but will want to also continue to develop a broader range of actions that would support improvements in the justice system for BSL users.” (Organisation)

“In 2014, the term ‘Deaf Gain’ was coined to shift the narrative from a medical model of deafness essentially defined by loss, to emphasising the advantages of what is gained such as deaf culture, community, history and sign languages.” (Organisation)



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