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Demand free British Sign Language classes for families with deaf children

Parents of deaf children are being left with no choice but to pay for sign language classes out of their own pocket.

We think this is unfair. Families should never be forced to pay to communicate with each other. This is why, with the British Deaf Association, we’re supporting Katie Littlejohns’ campaign to change this.

How the campaign started

Katie, a mum from Cornwall started a petition calling for free sign language classes for parents with deaf children because she couldn’t access free sign language classes to communicate with her deaf son.


Photo: Katie with her children Leo and Alvie

She didn’t want her son to struggle to communicate so decided to learn British Sign Language (BSL).

Katie thought it was unfair for parents like her to be forced to pay to learn how to communicate with their children.

“Parents should not need to justify wanting to communicate with your child. We shouldn’t have to battle” Katie 

Why we are supporting this campaign

Families should not face financial barriers to communicating with their children. Sadly, for many parents of deaf children, this is a reality. Families should never be forced to pay to communicate with each other. Especially at a time when many families are struggling financially.

Families should be able to communicate in whatever ways work for them. Hearing aids don't always work in places with a lot of background noise like swimming pools or restaurants. So sign language can be helpful for many deaf children, even if they also use speech.

Free sign language lessons can help parents give their deaf children early access to language. We know that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing families who are less likely to know BSL. Without early access to language, deaf children are more likely to experience disadvantages and ongoing challenges.

Families should have access to free sign language classes wherever they live in England. Our research found that 43% of local authorities don’t provide, fund, or commission any sign language courses for families in their area. Many families with deaf children are being left with no choice but to pay for sign language classes if their local authority does not offer them.

Where the campaign is now and how you can help

Katie’s petition is now closed but it had over 26,000 signatures. So far the government has said they have ‘no plans to introduce a universal free BSL course’ for parents of deaf children.

The government’s suggestion is that families use the Adult Education Budget to access courses. In most cases these courses aren’t fully funded so still leave many families out of pocket by hundreds of pounds.If two parents need to learn, then it’s double the cost.

We think this isn’t good enough and needs to change.


What we want the Government to do

Parents shouldn’t have to battle for support to learn sign language. They should have automatic, easy access to classes, no matter where they live in England.

Our position paper provides more detail on the change we want to see.