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Watch: Strictly's Rose Ayling-Ellis details fight to make British Sign Language (BSL) officially recognised in the UK.
Strictly Come Dancing winner Rose Ayling-Ellis has called for British Sign Language (BSL) to be given "official" status in the UK.
The EastEnders actor, who won the series with partner Giovanni Pernice and was the dance show’s first deaf contestant, has said sign language is not currently recognised as an official language which presents a “big problem” for the deaf community.
According to the British Deaf Associal BSL was recognised as an “official” language by the UK Government on 18th March 2003, but it does not yet have any legal status unlike the Welsh, Gaelic and Cornish languages which do have legal protection.
Scotland is the only country in the UK to have given legal recognition to sign language.
Ayling-Ellis, 27, was opening up about her fight to get BSL legally recognised during an appearance on This Morning.
“It’s been recognised as a language, but it’s not been official. That becomes such a big problem," she told presenters Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield.
“I have heard so many stories about deaf people going to a doctor appointment and they ask for an interpreter and they don’t refer them an interpreter, so they end up needing their child to translate, or a family member. That shouldn’t be happening.
“Because it’s not an official language, we can’t do anything about it.”
The actor went on to say she had spoken to Labour MP Rosie Cooper about her British Sign Language Bill, which will be debated in Parliament on 28 January 2022 and aims to declare BSL as an official language of the UK.
“I’ve called Rosie Cooper the MP, so I think she’s going to start to debate," Ayling-Ellis explained. “It’s passed the first stage but it has to go through the second stage at the end of January. If it goes through, and then they have a third one, it will become an official language.”
Commenting on the proposed Bill and having Ayling-Ellis' support, Cooper said, “Rose Ayling-Ellis has brought this incredibly important issue into every living room via TV screens across the country while she conquered Strictly Come Dancing.
“As the daughter of profoundly deaf parents, I grew up with BSL as my first language, so to see it being used every weekend on Strictly is phenomenal. So many people are signing up to learn BSL and have a much clearer understanding of what BSL is and why it essential that we recognise it as an official language.
“There are around 90,000 deaf people in the UK that rely on BSL, yet they have to fight every day to be heard or listened to.
"My Bill aims to help put deaf BSL users on a more equal playing field with everyone else, to require the Government to work with Deaf people to develop guidance on how public bodies should enable the use of BSL across their services."
Watch: Who is Strictly's Rose Ayling-Ellis?
Appearing alongside his partner, professional dancer Pernice said working with Ayling-Ellis had encouraged him to consider the needs of those in the deaf community and had decided to have an interpreter on his upcoming solo tour.
“I think it’s about time. Rose opened my eyes thinking about how a lot of people would maybe love to watch the show," he said.
“It’s important that everybody is inclusive, we have to be more inclusive in general. And also she’s coming to watch the show.”
Ayling-Ellis made a big impression on the British public during her stint on the popular dance show, but the deaf actor had a major impact in another way, too - inspiring thousands to learn sign language.
BSL classes saw enquiries shoot up by up to 2000%, according to the director of one firm which offers courses, while Google Trends has also recorded a massive spike in interest.
Russell Fowler, director of the website BSL Courses, told the BBC that every Saturday following the show, there was a huge rise in sign-ups to learn the language, which allows deaf and hearing-impaired people to communicate fully.
"On one Saturday we had over 1,000 and another time we received 778," he said.
"In August we were averaging around 20 to 30 enrolments a day, but by November, we were receiving an average of 400."