Deaf people have “had enough” of being excluded from public life, campaigners have told MPs.
Protesters and school children gathered in Parliament Square on Friday to call for British Sign Language (BLS) to become a recognised language in the UK.
It came as the British Sign Language Bill was given an unopposed second reading just a few hundred metres away in the Commons after it secured Government support.
The proposed legislation, introduced by Labour MP Rosie Cooper, who has two deaf parents, would give legal protection to the language in the UK.
In a speech to protesters, David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association, said: “We have just got to get the message across the road to the MPs. We are saying to them, we deaf people have had enough of this.”
He later added: “Our language hasn’t been recognised legally and we face so many barriers as a result.
“Enough is enough.”
Stewards in the crowd rang bells while protesters and schoolchildren carried placards with messages reading: “BSL Saves Lives”, “Recognition. Inclusion. Equality” and “Deaf parents suffer, don’t let us be next”.
Labour MP Nadia Whittome, who also spoke to protesters at the rally, told the PA news agency that deaf people “have been systematically excluded from public life and public services”.
“I think this should have been law a long time ago,” she said.
“It is pretty disappointing that people have to stand here in Parliament Square in 2022 to campaign for such basic measures.”
Ms Whittome added that growing up she watched her deaf uncle constantly being sidelined and that public services would often not have the provisions to help him.
“This can’t carry on,” she said.
Although BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the Government in 2003, it has no legal protection.
The Bill, which also has the backing of Strictly Come Dancing champion and EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis, will undergo further parliamentary scrutiny at a later date.
In a speech to the Commons on Friday, Ms Cooper said making BSL a legally-recognised language will send a clear message to every deaf person that “their language is equal and should be treated as equal”.
Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, also called the reading “a very important milestone for thousands of deaf children who use British Sign Language”.
She added: “If the Bill passes, it will send a powerful message that the culture and language of the deaf community are truly valued and recognised in law.”