British Sign Language (BSL) national plan: speech

Childcare and Early Years Minister updates the Scottish Parliament.

It is a privilege and an honour to introduce Scotland's first British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan, which I launched this morning at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

This is the UK s first and only BSL National plan and it was particularly symbolic to meet with students of the UK's first and only degree in performing arts, run in BSL. It provides yet another example of the forward thinking, progressive approach we are taking to social policy in Scotland.

This Chamber debated the draft plan in April, and I am delighted to be able to share the final plan. This has been shaped by over a thousand individuals and dozens of organisations who participated in the consultation online in BSL or English, or through one of nearly 100 events across the country.

When we debated the draft plan – and indeed when we unanimously passed the BSL (Scotland) Act back in 2015, the public gallery was full BSL users – as it is today. It's great to see so many of them here.

In particular, I would like to welcome members of the BSL National Advisory Group, which we call the NAG, and to recognise their important role.

The NAG is a collaboration of Deaf and Deafblind BSL users, which has worked alongside Scottish public bodies for the last 18 months to help shape Scotland's first BSL National Plan. It has been a truly co-productive approach, and I want to thank the NAG for their dedication and support.

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.

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.

The BSL National Plan sets out ten long-term goals for BSL in Scotland, covering early years and education; training and work; health, mental health and wellbeing; transport; culture and the arts; justice and democracy.

The legislation requires the plan to cover the next six years, but we are ambitious for change. And so the plan sets out 70 actions we will take in the next three years.

In 2020, we will publish a progress report and this will include a further set of actions we will deliver by 2023.

Future plans – which we will publish every six years - will take us even closer to our ten long-term goals.

Presiding Officer, I want to say something more about these goals, and about some of the actions we will take by 2020.

We recognise the absolutely critical importance of language in the early years. We will ensure that families and carers with a Deaf or Deafblind child are given information about BSL and Deaf culture, and will be offered support to learn to sign with their child.

We will also increase the provision of information, advice and support services in BSL for Deaf parents and carers of babies, children and young people from birth and throughout childhood and adolescence.

In education, the Scottish Government's goal is that all children and young people reach their full potential at school – and beyond.

And the plan sets out more than a dozen actions we will take to ensure that this applies equally to children and young people who use BSL.

The actions in the plan will improve the experience of pupils and students who use BSL, enable teachers to provide them with a better service, and encourage Deaf parents to be more actively involved in their child's education.

We also want more children to be able to learn BSL in schools. And my visit to Stoneywood Primary School over recess showed me just how much children enjoy learning BSL. We will work with the Scottish Qualifications Authority to develop new qualifications in BSL, which will make it a more attractive subject choice as part of the Scottish curriculum.

When pupils approach the end of their school days, we will provide a wide range of information, advice and guidance in BSL to support their career and learning choices and the transition from school to college, university or the workplace. And when they move into the world of work, we want them to feel supported to develop the necessary skills to become – and remain - valued members of the Scottish workforce, and to progress in their careers.

Presiding Office, I would like to turn my attention briefly to the range of actions in the plan to improve the health and wellbeing of BSL users in Scotland.

For example, we will increase the availability of relevant health information in BSL. This will include making sure that information on national health screening and immunisation programmes is routinely translated into BSL and is easy to access. We will also develop a learning resource for NHS staff to raise awareness of BSL and Deaf culture.

Presiding Officer, there are 70 actions in the BSL National Plan, and I have only been able to mention some of them. There are also actions to improve access to information and services in transport; in culture, leisure, sport and the arts; and in justice.

There is also a range of actions on participation on democracy and public life.

In particular I want to highlight our commitment to provide funding to enable Deaf BSL users and people with disability-related costs, to put themselves forward for election to this parliament, in 2021, through our new Access to Elected Office Fund.

So perhaps by the time we are discussing Scotland's second BSL National Plan in 2023, we will have an MSP who uses BSL.

The BSL National Plan covers all national public bodies who are directly answerable to Scottish Ministers. This means that we have been able to take a strategic, co-ordinated approach at the national level.

Other public bodies – including local authorities, regional NHS boards, colleges and universities – and the Scottish Parliament - will have to publish their own plans next year.

We are keen to share our learning, and to support public bodies to develop their own plans and we will do this through a series of roadshows across Scotland, and guidance, which will be uploaded on our new BSL (Scotland) Act website.

And over the next three years, we will offer public bodies practical support through the BSL (Scotland) Act Partnership, formerly known as the Deaf Sector Partnership.

The partnership - which includes British Deaf Association, Deaf Action, Deafblind Scotland, National Deaf Children's Society and Scottish Council on Deafness has been awarded funding of £1.3 million to continue their important work.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of these organisations, and others who work in the field of BSL, for their contribution so far, and for the work they will do in the months and years ahead to help make sure the BSL Scotland Act makes a difference to people across Scotland.

Our approach to BSL has been warmly welcomed by the United Nations in Geneva, and by our BSL communities, and the organisations that represent them, and by this chamber.

I hope that today's statement will also gain the crucial cross-party support that the BSL legislation enjoyed, so that we can work together across political parties, across Scotland and with Deaf and Deafblind BSL users to promote and support BSL - and all those who use it.

Presiding Officer, I commend the BSL National Plan to the chamber and look forward to taking questions from members.

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