Sign Language: How Things Have Changed Since The Queen Ascended The Throne

I was sorry to hear of HM Queen Elizabeth’s passing.

I have been thinking about how much things have moved on for the Deaf community since her Royal Highness ascended the throne in 1953.  I am profoundly Deaf and my first language is Irish Sign Language then later British Sign Language.

I am a lot younger than the Queen was but when I was at school in Ireland we were not allowed to sign. This was the same for Deaf children in Britain. It is still hard to believe. We did sign but only when there were no teachers around!

What’s sad is that sign language was not a new invention. It actually traces its roots back to the 16th Century; Charles I was on the throne in Britain during this period. And by 1760, during George III’s time, Thomas Braidwood opened up possibly the first school in Britain which included sign language in education.

Yet incredibly when the Silver Jubilee was celebrated in 1977, Sign Language was not recognised in Britain as an official language. Many people simply thought that it was a “simple collection of gestures and pantomime”. My parents, like many others in Britain, were told that learning to sign would hinder Deaf children’s ability to lip read and speak.

But things have been changing in recent years in this country. In 2003, British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised as a minority language. With the introduction of the Equality Act, organisations had to become more aware. And in June this year when we celebrated the Platinum Jubilee, the Deaf community were also celebrating the BSL Act 2022 which came into force. The Act creates greater recognition and understanding of BSL, and inclusion and equality for BSL users by. It also legally recognises BSL as a language for England, Wales, and Scotland.

With King Charles III beginning his reign, I hope we will start a new chapter for Sign Language with everyone learning to sign. As someone who is Deaf it does make a big difference when people sign.

Before I end this piece, my own connection with history is that I taught Penny Mordaunt, who announced the Queen‘s death and proclaimed Charles as Britain’s new King, BSL. Sadly, she did not use her BSL skills this time but perhaps there will be more signing at future state occasions. Let’s hope so.

RIP The Queen and God Bless The King.