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How Edge Hill’s politics students are supporting the ‘British Sign Language Bill’

Publish date: January 24, 2022

Students from Edge Hill’s brand new ‘Politics Lab’ are supporting local MP Rosie Cooper’s bid to have British Sign Language (BSL) recognised as a language in its own right within Law in the United Kingdom.  

Students from Edge Hill’s brand new ‘Politics Lab’ are supporting local MP Rosie Cooper’s bid to have British Sign Language (BSL) recognised as a language in its own right within Law in the United Kingdom.  

West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper is having her Private Members Bill, the ‘British Sign Language Bill’ debated in Parliament on 28 January.  

Ahead of the debate students studying Politics and other degree courses have been working in the ‘Politics Lab’ to produce a detailed briefing document for Rosie. Students conducted interviews, including with former Minster for Disabled People Maria Eagle MP and the head of Edge Hill’s Sign Language Society, as well as researching all aspects of BSL use in the UK.  

If passed the Bill will recognise BSL as a language within statute and require the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to issue guidance to each Ministerial Department on the promotion and protection of British Sign Language. 

BA (Hons) Politics and Sociology student Alex Woodhead said: “I’m partially deaf in both ears so I was really keen to play a part in this project, helping to get more support for deaf people as well as fighting discrimination. Rosie Cooper’s passion has been really inspiring; she knows the issues from her own background and is determined to make a difference.”  

West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper said: “I want to thank all the students that worked on this research at the Politics Lab. The information, data and first-hand accounts they collected will be invaluable to me when drafting my speech for the debate on 28 January and in convincing other MPs to back the Bill.  

“This is such an important issue to me. Growing up surrounded by deaf people and deaf culture, they gave me so much and this is my opportunity to pay them back. This is not a solo effort of course, although my name is on the Bill it is all hands-on deck. That is why I am so grateful that an extensive piece of research like this has been produced from within my constituency! The students have done their University proud.” 

Picture of Labour MP Rosie Cooper holding a sign that states "I support the BSL (british sign language) Bill

The students found that there are an estimated 151,000 sign language users in the UK and some 87,000 of those use sign language as their first language.  Despite its widespread use there is still a national shortage of BSL interpreters making it difficult for deaf people to communicate in everyday situations like going to the doctors, some career paths are still impossible to pursue and it can be difficult to play a full role in public life.  

Programme Lead for Politics Paula Keaveney said: “The work the students did for this Bill debate briefing is part of our approach to provide as much real-world experience as possible. Students really gain from looking into a topic, working with an MP and seeing how that work translates into the world of potential legislation. There is no substitute for this.” 

Picture of Programme Lead for Politics Paula Keaveney

Rosie’s Bill has been buoyed by the success of Strictly Come Dancing winner Rose Ayling-Ellis, the competition’s first ever deaf contestant and winner, who is calling on MPs to back the Bill. Rosie is also the daughter of profoundly deaf parents and grew up using sign language at home. 

BA (Hons) Politics and Sociology Alessandro Dematteis said: “It’s a really good cause and although recognising BSL in law seems like an obvious thing to do it’ll still be difficult to get through parliament. I’ve learnt a lot about parliamentary process and just how much scrutiny each Bill goes through and the length of time it can take for them to get passed.”  

The Bill itself is a simple instrument that will recognise British Sign Language as language in its own right and provide for improved guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State to public services and government departments. The overall aim of the Bill is to improve access by providing more services in BSL, expand BSL education in schools, and generally make BSL more common in society as a whole so that deaf people can always play a full role in society.  

BA (Hons) Politics and Sociology Student Thomas Jones said: “It was a fantastic extracurricular activity and it’s good to know our work will have real world impact for the deaf community.” 

After the second reading of the Bill takes place on 28 January, and if it passes this stage it will receive a committee stage and third reading later in the year, on the way to becoming Law. 

Edge Hill runs a number of courses in politics including BA (Hons) History & Politics, BA (Hons) Politics & Criminology, LLB (Hons) Law with Politics and BA (Hons) Politics and Sociology. Visit the website for more information. 

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