Strictly Come Dancing champion Rose Ayling-Ellis has said British Sign Language (BSL) being given official legal status in the UK would be “so emotional” for the deaf community.
The EastEnders actress, who was the BBC One show’s first deaf contestant, said the current situation meant some deaf children receive serious diagnoses from their doctor without a translator.
Although BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the Government in 2003, it has no legal protection.
Ayling-Ellis, 27, has voiced her support for Labour MP Rosie Cooper and her Bill in Parliament, which aims to declare BSL as an official language.
She told The Big Issue: “It’s about having protection for the language. There’s such a long history of signing.
“We have come such a long way – in the olden days, at schools for deaf children, they would make them sit on their hands or whip them for signing.”
She added: “There are so many traumas in our history but also such a rich history. If it becomes an official language, which we’ve been fighting for all these years, it will be so emotional for us.
“Because of the massive interest in BSL recently, a lot of people don’t realise how much of a fight the deaf community have had.
“I want to use my platform, while everyone is looking at me, to reflect that attention on to the whole deaf community.”
Speaking about the importance of the Bill, she added: “We hear so many times that a child who has deaf parents will go to a doctor’s appointment with them and they will have asked for an interpreter, but they are not provided, so they make the child translate for their parents.
“Sometimes they’re having to translate, ‘You’ve got cancer’, or ‘You’re dying’.
“It’s not uncommon in the deaf community. So, if the language becomes legal, you have more rights. Because no child should be in that situation.”
Ayling-Ellis and her professional dance partner Giovanni Pernice defeated Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe, the first all-male pairing on the show, in Strictly’s closely-fought final before Christmas.
The full interview is in The Big Issue, out now. Buy a copy from your local vendor, donate to The Big Issue’s Winter Appeal or subscribe online.