British Sign Language should be recognised as the first language of many deaf children in Wales
British Sign Language, or BSL, should be recognised as the first language of many deaf children in Wales, and be better supported, according to the National Assembly's Petitions Committee.
It's been looking at a petition calling for the Welsh Government to widen access to education and services in BSL in order to improve the quality of life for deaf people of all ages.
The petition was submitted by Deffo! Cymru, a forum for young deaf people in Wales. According to the National Deaf Children's society, there are 2,642 deaf children in Wales while Welsh Government figures show there are 3,116 pupils with hearing impairments in Welsh schools.
One young person from Deffo! told the committee how he moved to Wales from England and was shocked to find it was much more difficult to access services and find support than it was across the border.
Further evidence suggested that BSL classes are dropped during times of financial pressures. Though the Welsh Government recognises BSL as a minority language, the Committee believes that BSL should be treated as the first language of many deaf and hard of hearing children and young people in Wales.
The Welsh Government told the Petitions Committee that decisions around support and resources made available to deaf and hard of hearing people in Wales were the responsibility of local authorities.
Committee members have therefore recommended the development of a national charter for the delivery of services, including education, to deaf children, young people and their families. This would enable Local Authorities to plan and resource support within a nationally recognised framework and help to ensure consistency of provision throughout Wales.
"I thank the petitioners for bringing this important issue to our attention," said David Rowlands AM, Chair of the Petitions Committee.
"We believe that it is vital for parents and siblings of Deaf and hard of hearing children and young people to be offered an opportunity to learn how to communicate through the medium of British Sign Language.
"Whilst recognising that it is up to Local Authorities and Further Education Colleges to determine their own spending priorities, we are of the view that the Welsh Government could do more to guide local authorities to treat BSL as a language need, rather than a response to a medical need, which may help to reframe the conversation about adequate provision."
The Committee has published a summary of its report in British Sign Language and makes four recommendations:
The Welsh Government should support British Sign Language as a minority language, and encourage local authorities to recognise it as the first language of many Deaf children and young people when providing support and education services;
That the Welsh Government considers the development of a national charter for delivery of services and resources, including education, to Deaf children and young people and their families, and;
Opportunities to learn British Sign Language is made available to children at all levels of education and that the Welsh Government continues to explore the creation of GCSE first-language sign language with Qualifications Wales;
That the Welsh Government engages in workforce planning in relation to teachers working with Deaf and hard of hearing children and young people, in order to ensure the ongoing sustainability of these services.
The petition gathered 1,162 signatures through a combination of paper petitions and the Assembly's online system.
The Committee's report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.