How many opportunities does a MP get to ask the Prime Minister a question at Prime Minister’s Question Time? Not very often, would be my guess.
Which is why I’m doubly impressed that Malcolm Bruce MP has now asked two questions in three years focusing on deafness and sign language. Malcolm has a deaf daughter and is Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness. Even so, to nobble the Prime Minister twice on this in front of everyone at the highest level is pretty dedicated.
The first question was to Gordon Brown in 2008; Malcolm asked if he would meet a delegation of sign language users. Gordon agreed and the meeting led to the government-funded project, called I-Sign. The National Deaf Children’s Society was a part of this and led on a workstream to increase access to family sign language. With 90% of deaf children born to hearing families, many families struggle to learn to communicate with their deaf child. Yet most local authorities offer pretty little support to families wanting to learn family-appropriate signs at convenient times at minimal cost. Through the I-Sign project, NDCS created a family sign language DVD and website and working with others helped to pilot special courses in the North West and South West. Do check out the website – it features a beautiful seaside town that makes me wish I could go and live in my computer.
The pilots are now over. But families still need support. Hence, the return of Malcolm Bruce at Prime Minster’s Question more recently to ask if David Cameron would consider rolling out the pilots to the rest of England.
The reply was once again very positive and encouraging. David described sign language as “incredibly valuable”, said the pilots had been “successful” and said he would ask the Department for Education to meet with Malcolm and another delegation. Bingo.
It will be no mean feat to get the Department for Education to agree to a roll-out. But thanks to Malcolm, the mission has made a promising first start. Will the Department refuse to expand on something the Prime Minister refers to as successful?
Watch this space.