Deaf Suffolk teenager predicts full equality decades away despite British Sign Language law change

  • Watch a video report by Siri Hampapur

A teenager who was born deaf has welcomed a bill to make British Sign Language an official language - but predicted that full equality would not come in his lifetime.

After 19 years of campaigning, the British Sign Language Bill passed its final reading in the House of Lords last week and is set to be legally recognised as its own language across England, Scotland and Wales.

Daniel Jillings, 16, from Lowestoft said it was a great first step to equality but there was still a long way to go.

"It's going to be a slow process. The barriers are still there," he said.

"I think I'll be dead by the time that happens.

"With the BSL Act as well aimed at deaf people, it is not going to be 100% equality but it is a step in the right direction."

Daniel with his mum Ann Credit: ITV News Anglia

Daniel is the only deaf person at his school and his only ways of communicating is through sign language and the help of his hearing dog Varley.

Through his mum Ann, who acts as his interpreter, he told ITV News Anglia that growing up had not always been easy.

He said: "There's been lots of barriers...communication is more difficult."

But Daniel hopes a change in the law will make communicating easier, he said.

"Having the BSL Act is just the first step. And now it's been recognised as a language - as a full language - hopefully later it'll be added to and changed to give us more rights.

"For example, during the Covid briefings, there were no interpreters so things like that will improve."

But it's not just a change in law Daniel is fighting for.

He's been campaigning for Sign Language to be made a GCSE subject since he was 12.

His mother said it was his passion to help others like him that drove him on.

"As a hearing mum, the one thing I wanted was for him to feel a real pride in his deaf identity and his language, [and] to feel like he was part of a community," she said.

"It makes me burst with pride when I see him advocating for other deaf children and his language. So I'm proud."

What changes will official recognition of BSL bring

What impact will it have?

BSL will benefit from the same legal protections currently afforded to Welsh or Gaelic.

It means that deaf people would be able to access important health information in their own language.

And - as Daniel points out - future public health announcements such as those seen during the pandemic would have to be provided in BSL.

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Will the hearing community notice any changes?

Yes. You're probably already seeing some changes.

One example is that London Euston became the first railway station in the UK to provide passenger information using British Sign Language.

Touchscreens have been installed across the station. It has been developed in collaboration with Cambridgeshire-based Sign Language company Clarion UK.

And If you shop at Asda you may have noticed information screens at the front of the store are now signed.

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How many BSL users are there?

There are around 87,000 BSL users - that is about the same number of people who can read or speak Scottish Gaelic.

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Where can I find out more information?

There are plenty of resources on the British Deaf Association website and the National Deaf Children's Association site.

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