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Sign language plan postponed by Edinburgh City Council ‘does not meet children’s needs’, parents say

A new plan to improve the lives of people who use sign language has been postponed by Edinburgh Council after criticism that it is not ambitious enough and will not “meet the needs of children”.

One charity said the plan identified problems but not solutions and that “more concrete targets” were needed, while a local parent said she still had to fight for “the most basic human rights” for her deaf child.

The council is legally required to produce a new British Sign Language (BSL) Plan every six years, which sets out actions to ensure that users can “be fully involved in everyday and public life in Edinburgh, as active, healthy citizens” and are able to “make informed choices about every aspect of their lives”.

It covers various themes such as accessibility, children, employment, transport and democracy.

The latest document for 2024-2030 includes commitments to “improve awareness of and access to BSL/English interpretation”, “ensure that staff are suitably qualified, skilled and knowledgeable to effectively support BSL users” and “by to organize training sessions for deaf awareness staff” .

However, councilors have delayed its publication – meaning the authority will now miss the Scottish Government deadline – after serious concerns were raised at the policy and sustainability committee on Tuesday, May 28.

Councilors said issues raised by representatives of the deaf community at the meeting raised “many questions”, with one asking: “How did we get this so wrong?”

Mother Leigh Ferrand, whose profoundly deaf 13-year-old son attends a special school in the city, said she was pleading with the council to “consider more concrete actions that can actually help these children access education through BSL”.

She said that after “years of battle with Edinburgh Council” over “the most basic of human rights” she was told earlier this week that a special sign language lesson would be stopped and her son would be “integrated back into hearing lessons” along with others BSL lessons. speaking students at school.

“We have been offered a communications support worker so that our children can at least express their needs,” she said.

“We have had to beg the school to maintain a social group for BSL speaking children all the while as you as Edinburgh City Council proclaim the success of your BSL plan and are about to propose a new one. ”

Ms Ferrand claimed officials told her ‘Edinburgh may not be able to meet your child’s needs’.

She said: “That is not what your plan suggests, it says that all children’s educational needs will be met.

“So when you read this plan, you will understand why I am asking you to review this and look at concrete actions.

“This isn’t happening.”

Mark Ballard, head of policy in Scotland at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “Our key point is that this plan needs to be more concrete in what it will actually deliver over that long six-year period.

“It needs to be clearer and more ambitious.”

He told councilors that Edinburgh needed more qualified teachers of the deaf and teachers of the deaf with strong BSL skills.

“At the moment Edinburgh has half as many deaf teachers as Fife, the same number as West Lothian,” he said.

“The plan highlights the problem but does not explain how it will be addressed.

“The plan highlights the isolation that BSL users may face at school… but the plan does not address how that isolation will be addressed.

“This is not an ambitious plan, there could be so much more.

“We want this plan to actually be a living, breathing document that makes a difference for children, and that means developing more concrete targets so that over the next six years we can measure implementation, whether it’s working, whether it’s not working and the plan doesn’t give us that right now.”

Council leader Cammy Day said: “Given what we have heard this morning I think we will ask for this report to be continued so that you can meet with officials to resolve some of these issues before we make a final decision on the BSL plan. ”

The SNP’s Kate Campbell said she was “really shocked” by the deputations given, saying they raised “a lot of questions” for the council.

SNP group leader Simita Kumar asked: “How did we get this so wrong?”

Policy officer Elanor Cunningham said in response that the council had just six months to draw up the new BSL plan following the publication of the Scottish Government’s.

“It is widely recognized that this timescale is very limited and that is why we have taken the approach that we have taken, which is to deliver a high-level report stating that these are the actions we will take over the next six years and we will now developing a detailed implementation plan report.”

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