How sign language became the coolest night class trend

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British sign language

Efforts are being made to make British Sign Language part of our daily lives, which could help over 11 million deaf people in the UK live a better life. 

Stormzy’s performance at Glastonbury last month was one we’ll never forget. Politically charged in a time of Brexit and Boris Johnson, the grime artist stole the show with his headline slot.

However, a Twitter video which went viral after the performance showed that he had in fact been sharing the limelight throughout the whole set.

The internet quickly became obsessed with Tara Asher, the British Sign Language interpreter who translated all of Stormzy’s lyrics. She was one of the 20 Glastonbury DeafZone BSL interpreters who were hired in a bid to make the festival more accessible to deaf people.

“There’s not many interpreters who interpret music and do festivals,” she told The Guardian. “There’s a shortage nationally.”

With over 11 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing, the viral video raised awareness of the need for support.

The government has reported that 50% of deaf people have poor mental health and 35% of deaf people are unemployed (compared to 79% of the general population). Despite these statistics, British Deaf News reports that there is a shortage of sign interpreters.

But progress is being made.

This week, Sainsbury’s turned one of its stores into the UK’s first signing supermarket. The Bath branch was renamed “Signsbury’s” for the three-day project as part of the 150 Days of Community project. The trial involved staff communicating with customers both verbally and with sign language after taking local British Sign Language lessons. 

It was supported by actor and director Rachel Shenton, whose short film on signing won an Oscar earlier this year. 

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The Silent Child tells the story of a girl who struggles to communicate. Shenton highlighted the message of the film by signing as part of her acceptance speech. 

“Our movie is about a deaf child being born into a world of silence. It’s not exaggerated or sensationalised for the movie,” she told the BBC.

“This is happening. Millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers, and particularly access to education.

“Deafness is a silent disability. You can’t see it and it’s not life threatening so I want to say the biggest of thank yous to the Academy for allowing us to put this in front of a mainstream audience.”

British Sign Language
British Sign Language: is it about to become more mainstream in the UK?

Just last month, global tech company Huawei revealed its StorySign library, which helps to open the world of books to deaf children. The app uses unique AI in conjunction with a smartphone and a children’s book. People hold their phone up to the words on the page and the App’s avatar signs the story as the printed words are highlighted.

Schools are also being urged to take bigger steps in making the world more inclusive for people with hearing difficulties. 

Last year, the government said that it is “open to considering a proposal for a BSL GCSE for possible introduction in the longer term”.

It came after a petition calling for signing to be taught in schools was signed by 32,500 people, leading to the issue being debated in the commons. A survey by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) also revealed that almost all young people believed sign language should be offered as a GCSE.

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So, what exactly is British Sign Language and how can you get involved?

Sign Language is a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expression, and body language. Fingerspelling is a method of spelling words using hand movements. It is used mainly by people who are Deaf or have hearing impairments.

You can learn to sign language online or at a local school. Find all the information you need here

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Images: Getty


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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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