The History of BSL in Scotland Scroll to Explore Digital Pioneers in Webdesign. Scroll to Explore in Videography in Photography


Jenny Gilruth

Jenny Gilruth MSP was appointed as the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills in March 2023


Max Barber

In October, Max Barber, a Deaf BSL user, became BSL Policy Officer within the Scottish Government


Clare Haughey MSP
Minister for Children and Young People with responsibility for British Sign Language in 2021



BSL Interim Reports
Summaries of the progress being made with BSL Plans for Public Bodies in Scotland. The interim reports provided an insight of impact of the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 created by BSL Partners (BDA Scotland, Deaf Action and NDCS) for the first time.



BSL/English interpreters employed with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s Daily News
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, holds a press conference about coronavirus with BSL/English interpreter on 23rd March 2020.

This was the first time an interpreter was used for a briefing in Scotland.



2019 saw the employment of Deaf BSL users within Scottish Public Bodies.


In April, Frankie McLean (left) became BSL Policy Officer within the Scottish Government.
In June, Mark McMillan (centre) was made BSL Development Officer for the Scottish Parliament.
Later on in October of 2019, Alison Hendry (right) became the BSL Development Officer at the University of Edinburgh



BSL Local Plan – Councils, NHS, and other Public Bodies
This is Scotland’s first BSL National Plan, covering the whole of the Scottish Government, and over 50 national public bodies that Scottish Ministers have responsibility for. Other public bodies, including local authorities, regional NHS boards, as well as colleges and universities will publish their own BSL plans by October 2018.


Maree Todd MSP


Minister for Childcare and Early Years with responsibility for British Sign Language



Gordon Hay, a Deaf BSL user, is appointed BSL Policy Officer within the Scottish Government.


United Nations declared 23 September as International Day of Sign Languages


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The BSL National Plan was launched on 24 October. The first time a National Plan has been published bilingually in BSL and English Ministerial Statement in the Scottish Parliament


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BSL Version
English Version



Consultation on the BSL National Plan launched on 23 March


Mark McDonald MSP

Minister for Childcare and Early Years with responsibility for British Sign Language



A National Advisory Group (NAG) is established by the Scottish Government to support the development of the first BSL National Plan on 11 March. The NAG membership is made up of representatives from Public Bodies and members of the Deaf Community


Two documentaries produced for BSL Zone titled ‘The Battle for BSL’ and ‘Cheers for BSL’ were transmitted


The Battle for BSL

Cheers for BSL



The BSL Bill received Royal Assent on 22 October and officially became the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015


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Stage 3 Debate in the Scottish Parliament on 17 September. The BSL Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously


Stage 2 Debate in the Scottish Parliament on 2 June


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Stage 1 Debate in the Scottish Parliament on 5 May


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The BSL (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 29 October. The Education and Culture Committee set up a Facebook group in November to encourage BSL users to give their views on the BSL (Scotland) Bill


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Cathie Craigie passed on the baton to fellow MSP Mark Griffin to take the Bill forward. A second consultation period ran from 27 July to 7 November. The consultations were available in BSL


Census 2011 recorded a total of 12,533 people aged 3 and over using BSL at home


The 21st International Congress on the Education of the Deaf held in Vancouver, Canada passes a resounding resolution that rejects the motions passed back in Milan in 1880


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MSP Cathie Craigie was prepared to put forward a Member’s Bill and launched a consultation process to see if there was support for a BSL (Scotland) Act. The consultation was from 9 July to 29 October and showed there was overwhelming support for a BSL (Scotland) Act


Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) prepared a briefing paper for the Cross Party Group on Deafness asking for a BSL (Scotland) Act similar to the Gaelic Language Act 2005


Dr. Mary Brennan passed away on 23 June


In Memoriam


The British Government finally recognised BSL as a language in its own right on 18 March


Read it here


Lillian Lawson


Lilian K. Lawson became Director of the Scottish Council on Deafness in June and led the BSL recognition movement; with the Cross Party Group on Deafness has its first meeting in November


BSL was on the Scottish Parliamentary agenda in a debate based on a motion submitted by Winnie Ewing on 16 February


Read it here


The first British Sign Language march of the Campaign for the Recognition of BSL takes place in London and began series of marches for a number of years


Bencie Woll becomes the first Professor of Sign Language and Deaf Studies in the UK, at City University, London



The ‘Dictionary of BSL/English’, the first BSL vocabulary book, was published


Deaf Studies programmes are established at the University of Central Lancashire (Preston) and University of Wolverhampton to encourage people to obtain degrees in British Sign Language related subjects



The Patron of the BDA, Princess Diana gave a speech in BSL at the Centenary Congress and made another surprise visit at Durham University to meet Deaf BSL Tutors, again, communicating in BSL


The International Congress on the Education of the Deaf, held in Manchester, saw what Deaf historians regard as the ‘true birth’ of the campaign for the use and the recognition of British Sign Language. Deaf delegates and international Deaf groups abandon the Congress and join to organise an ‘Alternative Conference’ at Manchester’s Deaf Centre



Jock Young, who hails from Scotland, becomes the first Deaf Chair with Murray Holmes (also Scottish) as Deaf Vice-Chair of the BDA



Words in Hand: A Structural Analysis of the Signs of British Sign Language was published by Mary Brennan, Martin D. Colville and Lillian K. Lawson



Working at Moray House in Edinburgh, Mary Brennan was the first person to propose the name British Sign Language (BSL) be used for the sign language of the British Deaf Community


The National Deaf Children’s Society is formed, coinciding with a new Education Act 1944


The first International Silent Games (later World Games for the Deaf and now Deaflympics) are held in Paris (Paralympics was founded in 1960)


More info


The Guide to Chirology pamphlets are first published by Harry Ash (1863-1934). These ran through until 1920 – it is known as the first Deaf Awareness Movement


View them here


The Elementary Education (Deaf and Blind Children) Act is passed. This accepted, in full, the recommendations of the Milan Congress, leading to an era of Oralism in British Deaf schools


The British Deaf and Dumb Association (BDA as from 1971) is founded in response to the influence of the Milan Congress resolutions


A Royal Commission set up by the British Government decides that the ‘oral method’ should be used for every Deaf child


The Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf, held in Milan, infamously passes several resolutions declaring that sign language was inferior to Oralism, and ought to be banned. This leads to the widespread suppression of sign language in many Deaf schools throughout the world


Opening of Thomas Braidwood’s Academy for the Deaf in Edinburgh, the first school for the Deaf in the world, which saw the education of many famous Deaf sign language users


Princess Joanna of Scotland reported to have communicated using sign language interpreters

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