Deaf British Sign Language users

SignersPeople who are born deaf or who become deaf at a very young age may  use British Sign Language as their first language.  British Sign Language (BSL) is a visual-gestural language, using hand gestures, movement, space and facial expression,  to communicate in a three dimensional way.  BSL is a language in its own right, and has its own grammar and structure which is different from English.  Sign languages are different in each country and like spoken languages, BSL has many regional variations.signers

BSL users do not see themselves as being disabled, but see themselves as being a linguistic and cultural minority. The term Deaf with a capital D is used to show belonging to a particular cultural group.  Deaf people are proud of their language,  the sense of community and shared history that comes with being a BSL user. 

Many BSL users find it difficult to access services - as services are often not equipped to communicate with them in sign language, and staff are often not deaf aware.

Communicating with a Deaf BSL user

Not everyone knows BSL, however this should not stop you from trying to communicate with someone who is a BSL user.  Following the tips below can help communication and show that you want to communicate.  It is better to try and find a way of communicating rather than walking away from someone.

  • Make sure you have the person's attention
  • Face the person
  • Use facial expressions and gestures
  • Write things down
  • Use short sentences and plain English

Using a BSL-English interpreter

Many BSL users like to use a BSL-English interpreter to support their communication with hearing people.   Always check first, but it is the legal obligation for service providers to provide an interpreter if the BSL user wants one.  You should never assume that a family member or friend will interpret for the BSL user.

Find our more about booking and working with an interpreter.


BSL uses the BSL finger spelling alphabet for spelling names of people or places.  It is also a useful tool to support communication with a BSL user, by fingerspelling words.

Support your communication with BSL users by learning the BSL fingerspelling alphabet BSL Fingerspelling alphabet.