British Sign Language - national plan: progress report

A progress report on the British Sign Language (BSL) national plan.

4. Public services

4.1 Progress In Public Services

Over the four years since the launch of the current BSL National Plan we've witnessed significant progress across Government, local authorities and other public bodies. At the same time, the challenges facing us over the coming years have been brought into sharp focus.

As part of the Local Government Finance Resettlement, local authorities received funding equating to £21,000 per authority over the four years from 2018 to 2021. This supported the development of the first-ever Authority BSL Plans, which were drawn up with the invaluable input of local BSL communities.

In 2020, BDA Scotland conducted a series of interviews with local authorities. These were structured around five questions about practice and progress in BSL use and support. The questions were

  • Do you feel the action points under the BSL Plan are on track?
  • Can you share examples of progress achieved since 2017?
  • Do you face challenges or issues in promoting the BSL Plan?
  • Have you considered work required from 2021 to the end of the Plan period?
  • What support would you welcome from BDA Scotland?

Some key developments identified from this survey include:

  • All local authorities had published their BSL Authority Plans in written English and 30 had published their Plans in BSL.
  • 16 local authorities had implemented some sections of the Local Authority Plan.
  • 5 local authorities had established Deaf and/or BSL Awareness training for staff.
  • During the COVID-19 crisis, 27 local authorities translated information into BSL for their online platforms.
  • Angus and Dundee City Councils have pooled resources to train BSL users in presentation skills.
  • Perth & Kinross Council produced a BSL video for their Christmas programme in 2019.

4.2 Actions and outcomes

Action No. 1


Develop and test a new question on the use of BSL in Scotland for potential inclusion in Scotland's Census. This will give us a more accurate profile of Scotland's BSL users*.

Updates from June 2021

"Can you use BSL?" will be included as a question in the Census.

Inclusion of this question follows a period of question development and testing.

More specific information on the results of BSL question testing are available in the Language Topic Report which can be found on the Scotland's Census website.

National Records of Scotland responsible for conducting Scotland's (postponed) Census 2022.

Action No. 2


Analyse existing evidence and gather further data about BSL, so that we can establish baselines and measure how we are making progress.

Updates from June 2021

Due to COVID-19 the main source of BSL data in Scotland is still the 2011 Census. The 2011 results are analysed in this report.

Action No. 3


Develop, test and share a set of guidelines to help Scottish public services to improve access to information and services for BSL users. This will include advice on how to involve BSL users in the design and delivery of Scotland's public services.

Updates from June 2021

A Guide and Tool has been developed (using advice and guidance from the BSL community) that lets BSL users know of upcoming research events. It informs BSL users of Scottish Government User Centred Design (UCD) events or research activities signed in BSL and how to contact the project group. This is used by the Digital Directorate a UCD community and has been shared with others in the public sector as an example. Social Security have used the tool. The guide has been provided as an example to other researchers in the public sector. Currently it can't be used outside Scottish Government's Digital Directorate but, other stakeholders can use it as an example. Feedback is welcome to assist ongoing improvement.

Action No. 4


Work with BSL users* to agree and begin a programme of work to increase the accessibility of the '' website. This website enables citizens to access a range of public information and services online

Updates from June 2021 has been reviewed by the Accessibility Team from the Office of the Chief Designer, which has led to improvements in the general accessibility abilities of the site. Continuous improvements will be useful to BSL users in the future.

Action No. 5


Promote the use of the Scottish Government's nationally funded BSL online interpreting video relay service (VRS) 'contactSCOTLAND-BSL', which allows BSL users* to contact public and third sector services and for these services to contact them and explore the potential for its greater use.

Updates from June 2021

The Scottish Government funds contactSCOTLAND-BSL – the BSL online interpreting Video Relay Service, which enables Deaf and Deafblind British Sign Language (BSL) users to telephone, via video relay interpreters, private sector numbers as well as statutory and third sector numbers, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The service is provided by Sign Language Interactions (SLI) on behalf of the Scottish Government and it offers BSL users the means to communicate in real-time, with services and family and friends. Services, family and friends can also use this service to contact BSL users. The numbers of calls has risen sharply since January 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus, and continue to rise. (There was an increase of 143% in the number of calls relayed in January 2021 compared with January 2020.) Almost half of additional calls relayed during the pandemic have been to the NHS.

Action No. 6


Encourage public bodies to access BSL awareness training for staff who may work with BSL users*.

Updates from June 2021

Following publication of the BSL National Plan, a series of roadshows and engagement events were organised by the BSL Partnership. These were open to all public bodies and well-attended. As part of these, BSL Awareness training was flagged as a key enabler. Following this, the BSL Partnership organisations have had specific remits to support groups of public bodies (e.g. Local Authorities and NHS Boards) and this has included advice, guidance and signposting on BSL Awareness topics and issues. Work is ongoing.

Action No. 7


Review a range of current and on-going Scottish and UK evidence about the BSL/English interpreting landscape (for example the UK Market Review of BSL and communication provision, and the Scottish Government funded review of the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI)).

Updates from June 2021

The 'BSL Interpreting in Scotland: Landscape review' was commissioned by the Scottish Government and undertaken by Queen Margaret University. The final report was published on 5th February, 2020 and researched the below topics through surveys and interviews with: interpreters and trainee interpreters, registration and membership bodies, the interpreters union, agencies and training providers. The research covered:

  • The current interpreter progression routes to registration, and post registration career options;
  • Geographical mapping of interpreters' working locations;
  • How interpreters source assignments; and
  • Barriers to interpreters' professional practice.

Action No. 8


Analyse the learning from actions we are taking forward in health, education and justice (referred to in this plan) to strengthen Scotland's interpreting profession.

Updates from June 2021

The analysis work will be taken forward in the next two years and be shared with the interpreting profession in appropriate ways, including with interpreter trainers.

Action No. 9


Consider what further work is needed to ensure that a strong and skilled pool of BSL/English interpreters are working efficiently across Scotland.

Updates from June 2021

The 'BSL Interpreting in Scotland: Landscape review' was commissioned by the Scottish Government to identify steps that could strengthen the BSL/English interpreting profession in Scotland. Some of the report's recommendations are for the Scottish Government to consider, whilst others are for the wider BSL interpreting sector to take forward. An initial gathering of key stakeholders (registration bodies, membership associations, training providers & the national BSL/English National Interpreting Union) took place in November 2019 to directly consider their commendations; further collaborative work was planned for 2020 but due to the COVID-19 pandemic this has been delayed.



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