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British Deaf Association reacts to Census Figures with dismay

8 March 2013

British Deaf Association says census “gives wholly wrong impression” of number of sign language users and should not be used to justify cuts

BDA praises census for recognising British Sign Language for first time but says question was confusing and thousands of BSL users were not counted

The British Deaf Association (BDA) believes that the census gives a misleading picture of the actual number of Deaf users of British Sign Language (BSL). It is asking local authorities and health commissioners not to cut services on the basis of inadequate data.

The census identifies 15,000 people in England and Wales who declare BSL as their first language and 7,000 saying they use another sign language. The Department of Health’s latest GP Patients survey, however, estimates there are 122,000 or eight times as many BSL users.

BDA chief executive David Buxton said: “While we welcome the attempt to count BSL users for the first time, the census gives a wholly wrong impression of numbers. By asking the question confusingly, it undercounted those for whom BSL is a first language. It also did not, of course, count the many tens of thousands of deaf people who use BSL alongside English.

“We are asking local authorities and health commissioners not to rely on the census when they plan services for Deaf people. It would be a tragedy if these misleading figures were used to justify cuts, resulting in Deaf people being further marginalised.

“There is already a shortage of BSL interpreters across the country and Deaf people are routinely denied access to health, education and employment.”


Additional Information: -

  1. The census hugely undercounted those for whom BSL is a first language. There was no separate tick box for “BSL” so users had to tick “Other language” and then write in “BSL” by hand. However, this was the first-ever census to recognise BSL as a language. Previously, anyone writing in “BSL” under “Other language” would have been discounted. Many deaf BSL users that they could write in BSL for the first time so didn’t. The census was also not accessible enough to deaf people for whom BSL is their first language. Not all can use the internet and they find English-based forms difficult to understand.
  1. The census does not try to count the tens of thousands of people who use BSL alongside English, only those who say it is their first language. Many deaf people rely on both BSL and English depending on the situation. The fact that the census doesn’t recognise this is understandable but it shouldn’t be used as an accurate measurement of BSL use or the need for interpreters, BSL lessons for families and access to health, education and employment for Deaf people.
  1. The annual GP Patients Survey is commissioned by the Department of Health and conducted by Ipsos MORI. It is a random sample survey of people aged 18 or over living in England and registered with an NHS GP.