Last year, the Government added a British Sign Language GCSE to the ever-growing list of things they are ‘open to considering’, following a young boy’s campaign. What progress has been made since then? It would seem that, yet again, this is a case of the powers that be brushing off possibly earth-shattering movements with a pretence of ‘consideration’, whilst pointing out how lengthy and complicated such an incorporation would be – a tired excuse.
What is truly long and complicated is being the only deaf child in the classroom, and not being able to communicate as easily as everyone else around you. Whether heavy assistance is provided or not, communicating to your friends through a mediator is not the same, especially for a seven-year-old. There are around 11 million deaf people in the UK, and this figure is only expected to increase. When you really think about it, it is completely unacceptable that we are effectively leaving millions of people on the fringes of society, by refusing to acknowledge a fixed language barrier. It is left to luck whether or not someone in a restaurant, supermarket, school, petrol station, can speak basic sign language – and if not, it becomes the responsibility of the person who cannot hear to get used to working around this difficulty.
It is not as though children are not capable of picking up and learning the basics of sign language at a young age; we teach many five-year-olds the basics of French or Spanish in Primary School, and yet we are not willing to teach them BSL, something that is likely to be far more beneficial in their lives. Arguably, Serena learning sign language for David in Four Weddings and a Funeral would be slightly less romantic if we could all speak it, but I think that is a sacrifice worth making. Because the sad truth is, it isn’t really romantic at all that we watch a woman learning a language in order to communicate with a man in what is his given, first language due to a disability, and sit at home and aw and coo. It should be a given that everyone can communicate with deaf people on at least a basic level, and it is absolutely not romantic that Serena still goes for David despite the fact that she has to learn to sign in order to talk to him.
Language should not be a barrier to the everyday relationships of people who cannot hear, and it is crucially important that we take part in preventing it from continuing in this way. If we were all taught basic sign language from a young age, it would not be difficult to completely alter the experiences of deaf people. We would be able to knock down a barrier that has existed, unjustly, for far too long. And I personally think I could take one less cry whilst watching Four Weddings in exchange for that, don’t you?