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British Sign Language

  • Deaf Awareness
  • Intensive Workplace British Sign Language
  • Makaton
  • Baby Signing

Equality & Diversity

  • Disability Awareness
  • Equality & Diversity

Learning Disabilities

  • Aspergers Syndrome, Dyslexia, Autism & Downs Sydrome

Mental Health

  • Mental Health First Aid

Visual Awareness

  • Visual Impairment Awareness

Deaf Community and Culture

British Sign Language is usually referred to in its abbreviated form of BSL. The same applies to the sign languages of other countries, for example, ASL for American Sign Language, AUSLAN for Australian Sign Language and LSF (Langu des Signes Francaise) for French Sign Language.

Throughout history sign language has been regarded as inferior and not recognised as a proper language at all, but as a system of mime and gestures. Although sign language has been around for over a hundred years, it was not until 1974 that it was acknowledged that sign language is a language in its own right and officially named 'British Sign Language'. BSL does not use many English words but, because it has its own grammatical rules – based on the visual use of the hands and space – it does not use the same word order.

In 1760 Thomas Braidwood opened the first school for the deaf in Edinburgh, employing a combined method of teaching. This used finger spelling, speech, reading and writing. Only wealthy people could afford to send their children to his school. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries residential schools for the deaf were established in London, Exeter, Birmingham and Manchester, where they all used sign language for communication.

In 1880 a conference of educators of the deaf took place in Milan, Italy. The majority of the 'educators of the deaf' present voted in favour of banning sign language in schools for the deaf and using oral methods of communication instead. This was to apply to all schools for the deaf in Europe and the USA. Five Americans representing 6,000 deaf pupils in the USA were the only one's who voted against it. No deaf people were present to give their views because deaf people had been banned from attending.

This conference had a huge impact on sign language as deaf teachers in deaf schools lost their jobs and were replaced by teachers who were trained to run their classrooms using only the oral method. Signing and gestures were strictly forbidden. Deaf children were not taught or allowed to use sign language for nearly 100 years and generations of children were taught in a way that was unnatural and frustrating. Teachers harshly punished children who signed or used gestures by tying their hands to their chairs or behind their backs. They also used caning of the hands.

Needless to say this method of teaching denied deaf children any worthwhile education and many left school at 16 with a reading age of 8 years old. The fact that sign language survived is thanks to certain children who were either deaf or had deaf parents and used it when others weren't watching. The signs therefore developed in a natural way, and because they were from different parts of the country many regional variations of BSL developed and still exist today, just as accents and dialects in the hearing world.

As only a small minority of people have deaf parents, most deaf people grow up in a world where their family and work colleagues are not deaf. Deaf clubs are sometimes the only places where they do not feel isolated and can participate fully in all activities. These are places where deaf people can relax and catch up with news that is relevant to them and their friends. They run activities including tennis, badminton, drama clubs, football, cricket, tennis, bingo and even dance!

Modern technology allows the younger generation of deaf people to fax, text or email each other easily and arrange to meet. These technologies also include minicoms and text-phones, type-talk and videophones/webcams.


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