Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has stated her intention to lay the framework in the current Assembly term for the introduction of legislation for British and Irish Sign Language users in the north.
The Minister expressed her hope and belief that equal rights for British and Irish Sign Language users would attract cross-party support, and that work in this regard would continue when responsibility for sign languages transfers to the Department for Communities in the next Assembly mandate.
Speaking in the Assembly, the Minister said more was needed to be done to help Deaf people.
The Minister said: “The message from the Deaf community is clear: they want legislation to safeguard their rights as a cultural and linguistic minority. They also want to be able to access services in their own language. I want to support their efforts. It is important that we take steps to make accessibility and inclusion throughout society the norm for our Deaf community.
“Promoting equality, tackling poverty and social exclusion is a cross-departmental priority for the Executive. It is my Department’s number one priority. I recognise our Deaf community face these challenges on a regular basis.”
The Minister referred to her meeting with Emma Rogers, the hearing mother of a young Deaf boy, Patrick, earlier in the year.
The Minister said: “Emma highlighted the difficulties that families face when they are informed their child is deaf. She described the shortcomings in the provision of adequate services to families with deaf children. This includes access to free sign language classes as a means of communication within the family.”
She continued: “Raising children when there is very limited family communication is extremely challenging.
“Over the years my Department’s work, through the Sign Language Partnership Group, has contributed much to improving the lives of sign language users and their families. For example, by providing increased numbers of interpreters and Deaf sign language teachers, and through the provision of free sign language classes for deaf children and young people and for their parents and families.
“However, I am convinced of the need to do much more.
“As Minister with responsibility for sign languages, I will take the initial steps to address this issue.
“I appreciate that the timescale is challenging but I hope and believe that equal rights for British and Irish Sign Language users will attract cross-party support and that this work will be carried on when responsibility transfers to the Department for Communities in the next Assembly mandate.
“I believe the political will is there and we must grasp the opportunity.”