Why study BSL?

There are many reasons why you might be motivated to study BSL, but you may not be fully aware of the positive impact that your decision will have. Any form of disability, including hearing loss, can lead to people feeling excluded and isolated. Taking any form of action to address this is a positive step, for you, for the person with the disability and for society as a whole.

For anyone in a public-facing role such as a receptionist, nurse or teacher, knowledge of BSL should be considered a core skill. And even if your working life doesn't place you in day-to-day contact with the public, there will be social functions or times when you are simply out and about where your ability to communicate with someone could prove invaluable in making them feel part of the occasion or providing them with essential help.

There are many scenarios where an individual who has not previously considered the need for knowledge of British Sign Language might become aware of such a need. This could be as a result of a deaf child being born into a hearing family, the recognition that an existing or new friendship would benefit from this skill or as a result of a deaf person being recently employed as a work colleague.

There are both formal and informal ways to develop your BSL skills. Take a look at the options.

Case Study - Lesley

As the foster parent of a Deaf child, Lesley enrolled onto the Signature Level 1 Award in British Sign Language. She had no experience of BSL or of deafness but felt it was the right thing to do.

Lesley would always arrive at the class early with lots of prepared questions on the course and on deafness and would always be the last to leave.

She progressed on to an intensive Signature Level 2 Certificate in British Sign Language course in order to stay ahead of the child, who was then three years old. Lesley was a keen learner with enough enthusiasm to fill the whole classroom. She would support the group with any external information she found, either verbally or with printouts that she had prepared.

As the child had become part of the family, Lesley approached the CHIIC Sign Language Centre in Newport to see if they would teach basic BSL to the whole family. She knew that it was important for them all to be involved. Encouraged by Lesley, the family group attended various social events at the centre.

It is easy to adopt the attitude that a Deaf person must be used to encountering difficulties in communication and therefore it is they who should take responsibility for dealing with these. For an individual or organisation that is seeking to deliver excellent customer service, perhaps dealing with a deaf customer in a shop or bank, the onus really should be on the individual or organisation to seek to provide the best customer experience possible.

There are both formal and informal ways to develop your BSL skills. Take a look at the options.

Case Study - Eshan

As a driving instructor working with people with various disabilities, Eshan takes whatever steps she can to make her pupils feel relaxed behind the wheel.

Based in London with 23 years' experience, Eshan is committed to promoting the freedom and empowerment of her pupils and works with people with various disabilities, enabling them to be independent and to make their own choices.

Having received an enquiry about driving lessons from a prospective pupil who was Deaf, Eshan felt it was her responsibility to try and learn BSL to be able to communicate with her pupil and other Deaf people. Eshan undertook a course of study at City Lit College in Covent Garden, London.

If a lengthy explanation or discussion is necessary whilst driving, communication only takes place once the car has been safely parked. If there is a need to sign during driving, Eshan ensures that it is brief and minimal.

Eshan recognises that it is as important for deaf people to learn to drive as it is for people with normal hearing. It gives them confidence to travel and to be independent. Her hope is that in future, other driving instructors will consider taking BSL level 1 courses to educate themselves and to ensure accessibility to lessons.

Knowledge of BSL will ensure that clients are put at ease and that communications are effective. It is also an excellent skill to have to support personal career development.

Case Study - Kelly

In her role as a nurse, Kelly works with Deaf patients and recognises the importance of being able to communicate effectively to place people at ease.

Working as a nurse, Kelly was inspired by a Deaf patient to learn BSL and achieved the Signature Level 3 Certificate in British Sign Language (BSL).

She uses her skills on the ward to ensure patients feel comfortable and has created resource files, as part of her Professional Development Programme, so that all staff can refer to them for help with basic communication when a deaf person comes on to the ward. Kelly actively promotes BSL courses in the hospital and a senior colleague recently achieved the Signature Level 2 Certificate in British Sign Language because of her encouragement.

An inspiration to teachers and fellow students, Kelly also attends the local deaf club at every opportunity to practice and meet more deaf people. Her energy is limitless, she volunteers at the Deaf Youth Club on Friday nights, and at the holiday play schemes working with deaf children and their siblings.

Did you know that there are many interesting and exciting careers that you can follow with a qualification in BSL? Study for a formal qualification and gain a skill-set that will take your career in a new direction.

Case Study - Joseph

Joseph was inspired by seeing the positive impact on people's lives made by professionals working with Deaf people. This motivated him to take a whole new direction in his own life, leaving behind his role as a canteen worker and working full-time as part of Newcastle College's Learning Support Team.

Joseph was a canteen worker at Newcastle College who wanted to change his career, but had no formal qualifications. He took a position working with learners who had challenging behaviour and in this new role, Joseph saw Communication Support Workers (CSWs) at work; this inspired him to learn British Sign Language.

The term D/deaf is used to describe people who are Deaf (sign language users) and deaf (those who are hard of hearing but who have English as their first language and may lip read and/or use hearing aids).

Joseph's line manager spotted his enthusiasm and potential and Joseph was approached by the D/deaf Team in the College Learning Support Service. Joseph enrolled onto the Signature Level 1 Award in British Sign Language course. He thought that learning BSL would be impossible but was willing to give it a try. Progressing onto Level 2, Joseph worked hard and passed. He worked with Deaf learners and really enjoyed it, and was amazed at how much he had achieved.

Joseph enrolled onto the Signature Level 3 NVQ Certificate in British Sign Language course. He encouraged and motivated others on the course, arranging study/practice sessions, visiting Deaf clubs and researching events for them to visit. He worked with his peers to build their confidence and made new friends within the Deaf community.

Joseph went on to work within the D/deaf team of Learning Support at Newcastle College, where he received positive feedback from his manager and tutors. His next objective is to become a BSL/English interpreter.

For any consumer-facing organisation, the ability to deliver high-quality service to all of its customers is an essential skill. Many organisations, such as banks and building societies, have hearing aid loops or signage to show that they are attempting to accommodate staff and customers who have hearing loss. However, not all organisations have hired staff who know how to communicate with deaf people.

Case Study - Avon and Somerset Constabulary

Police Link Officers for Deaf people (known affectionately as PLODs!) are police officers or police staff who have volunteered to work with Deaf people or people with hearing loss. They also promote understanding of deaf issues within the police.

All PLODs are BSL trained and continue to get training in deaf issues.

PLODs have contact with local deaf organisations and when shifts allow, will go to meetings. Whilst PLODs cannot act as interpreters, they can help with victims of crime or where BSL is needed. They will also help, where possible, if communication is a problem.

Learning BSL is great fun. It is a practical skill that can open up many new career and social opportunities and is great for confidence building.

Case Study - John

John has a Signature BSL Level 1 qualification. It was a year-long course that took three hours a week with a conversation test at the end. Studying BSL was a steep learning curve but a lot of fun.

John wasn't motivated to study because he had any family members who were deaf or because he knew any deaf people; he did the course for the challenge and satisfaction of learning a new skill.

When you have a skill, you begin to notice how many deaf people there are around you. Gaining the qualification has given John the confidence to communicate with Deaf people when he meets them. John continues to learn informally, since “once you know the basics, there's a lot you can pick up from deaf people and from resources on the net”.