Yesterday history was made in Ireland. Irish Sign Language (ISL) was finally recognised by law, as legislation was passed which gave it legal recognition as a language. Approximately 5,000 deaf people and around 35,000 others such as friends and family, use ISL to communicate. Legislation received cross-party support, and was met by cheering in the chambers as the Bill was passed.
It is hoped the change in law will bring an end to marginalisation and social isolation of the Deaf community. Deaf people will have a right to access to public services in their own language, with a duty on these services to provide ISL interpretation at no cost to the user when they are statutorily entitled. Minister Finian McGrath said “Provision of supports so they [deaf ISL users] can visit their GP and engage in social and cultural activities would be a humane and worthwhile initiative to combat this isolation, and improve well being and mental health.” It is known from research in the UK that it is much more common for doctors not to spot or diagnose health conditions in deaf people, including problems which can lead to life-threatening illness. A major reason being lack of accessibility to health services. There will also now be a statutory right to use ISL in court proceedings.
From now on interpreters and teachers using ISL will be regulated – put on a list to show they are up to standard; in the past there have been too many cases where interpreters were not “up to scratch.” Currently, there is a shortage of ISL interpreters, so more need to be trained.
Knowing how many parents of deaf children we have taught how to sign at Dot Sign Language, and the positive impact this has on their lives, we are delighted that the Bill will mean that Irish Sign Language courses will be provided for parents of deaf children.