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March 26, 2003

Mum welcomes support for sign language

From: East Anglian Daily Times, UK - Mar 26, 2003

THE mother of a profoundly deaf child has welcomed a decision by the Government to officially recognise British Sign Language.

Charlotte Jenkins said the decision was likely to open the door to the provision of more services for deaf people, including her son, Wilfred, aged six.

Mrs Jenkins, of Laxfield, has been taking part in a national campaign to persuade the Government to recognise British Sign Language, used at least since the 16th century, as a language in its own right.

She has been writing to ministers and her MP Michael Lord, as part of a campaign involving voluntary organisations which represent the interests of deaf people.

"Deaf children and their parents particularly need more help. People don't realise until they have a deaf child just how hard it is," she said.

Sign language is the preferred method of communication for 70,000 people in Britain, making it second only to Welsh as a minority language.

However, until now it has lacked legal status and some local authorities have done little to promote its use because they regard it as an inferior system of communication and prefer lip-reading.

Under disability laws, local authorities and employers are obliged to offer "reasonable" facilities for deaf people but there is little guidance on what this actually means.

The Government has now promised an extra £1 million for training interpreters and a "sympathetic" consideration profoundly deaf people to have "signing" available during important interviews and medical consultations.

Among the new ideas being developed is the use of video-telephones for sign language.

Mrs Jenkins, a widow, said formal recognition for British Sign Language would lead to a higher profile for deaf people and greater funding for services.

"It will give my own son more help as he grows older," she said.

Her son, Wilfred, is a pupil at Thomas Wolsey School in Ipswich where specialists are brought in to teach the boy.

Members of school staff have also been completing courses in sign language in order to improve the help they can give Wilfred and other children with hearing problems.

Mrs Jenkins said Wilfred had been learning sign language since the age of two and was now well advanced.

Villagers at Laxfield had been "absolutely marvellous" towards the boy and he was never allowed to feel left out of any activity, she added.

Tom Fenton the chief executive of the Royal Association for Deaf People, said the Government's decision was "the most important event in the history of Britain's second largest indigenous language".

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