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Language strategy benefits deaf people

22 Mar 2019
Belfast City Council has today become the first Northern Ireland council to sign up to the British/Irish Sign Language Charter committing it to promote better access to public service for deaf communities.

This is the latest step in the council’s ongoing language strategy. The BSL/ISL Charter is designed to remove direct and indirect discrimination, empower local deaf communities and resolve barriers between service providers and deaf people while increasing awareness of deaf issues.

The council has signed up to three pledges:
Consult formally and informally with the local deaf community on a regular basis;
Ensure access for deaf people to information and services; 
Ensure staff working with deaf people can communicate effectively using British Sign Language and/or Irish Sign Language.

Lord Mayor, Deirdre Hargey, who has signed the charter on the city’s behalf said: “It is good to see steps being taken to ensure the language strategy is inclusive and provides benefits for people across the city.

“Everyone deserves the right to have their voices heard that’s why I support a ‘Belfast for All’ and it is important that in signing up to this Charter the council formally commits to ensuring better access to public services and to empower local Deaf communities.

“Language is important to encourage understanding and our new language strategy is opening avenues for increased understanding and co-operation not just for deaf people but for all of us.” said Councillor Hargey.

“In signing this Charter we are ensuring that those who communicate by signing are not disadvantaged in accessing key council services; we are ensuring good practice in producing information for people who sign; and we are supporting community cohesion by removing barriers arising from differences in communication styles.

“This is in line with the ‘Belfast Agenda’, the long-term development plan for the city which demands that we become a more inclusive society. What better way to become inclusive than by providing more people the opportunity to participate fully in society,” added the Lord Mayor.

Majella MacAteer, Community Development Manager for BDA Northern Ireland, said: “We are delighted that Belfast City Council has made the historic decision to sign three pledges of the BSL/ISL Charter. The Charter is one of the BDA’s flagship projects, and represents important and tangible commitments by councils and other bodies to the deaf people they serve. 

“The deaf community is a linguistic community with a rich history, identity, language and culture. The Charter highlights good practice and will build capacity to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and develop good relations with the Deaf community.

“Ultimately, signing up to the Charter is about changing practices, and is a long-term commitment. We strongly commend Belfast City Council for taking this step, and are excited about the improvements being made that will mean greater inclusivity for deaf people.”

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Cllr Deirdre Hargey conversing in sign language with Paul Redfern (Chair of British Deaf Association), Richard Beattie from the Deaf Community and Jeff McConnell (Sign Language Interpreter) Lord Mayor of Belfast, Cllr Deirdre Hargey, Paul Redfern (Chair of British Deaf Association) and Richard Beattie from the Deaf Community signing up to the British/Irish Sign Language Charter