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2011 census: question about sign languages & deafness

A test census has been released in preparation for the 2011 census.

For the first time, this includes a question about British Sign Language (Page 6), which asks in relation to language usage:

- No ability
- Understand sign
- Sign

This is a major step forward, and acknowledges that BSL is a language in its own right, it might put to bed conflicting statistics once and for all (only a small number of people use), something that can only be encouraged.

However, here we have a question IN ENGLISH, asking about other minority languages. If the government acknowledges other languages are used in the UK, then it needs to start producing the census in these languages, as it is required to do by law with Welsh.

Where's the BSL version of the census? This could be put online, with a householder code, as an option to respond in BSL. There's obvious questions how to record BSL here.

Whilst other languages have the box to write, it is taking a rather narrow definition of write here. As in pen and paper. Recording (or writing in a broader sense) of BSL has been done in previous decades by video letter, and the advent of the internet allows writing or recording of sign language via vlogs, signed attachments to e mails, and so forth. To exclude this, pushes the assumption that sign language is somewhat of a lesser language.

In addition to BSL, the census allows space for other sign languages, and leaves this field blank. What happens if you know more than one additional sign language, which I can can think a few people might do.

The above was something I pushed for last year at consultation stage, and this is what I posted on an e mail group:

Mon May 16, 2005 11:16 pm

2011 census consultation

An opportunity to push for BSL to be included on the census? I know the Welsh / English / both language question has traditionally been asked in Wales. What about other languages?



Date: May 16, 2005

A consultation programme to identify the topics for possible inclusion in the 2011 Census was launched today by the Office for National Statistics.

A document 'The 2011 Census: Initial view on content for England and Wales' has been published as a focus for the consultation and can be seen on the National Statistics website at:


This provides a first view of what the 2011 Census questionnaire might include for England and Wales. ONS is placing strong emphasis on maximising responses from households and individuals. This might include making the questionnaire less complex and limiting the number
of questions. This emphasis comes as a result of lessons learnt from the 2001 Census.

Reducing complexity could mean significant changes to some questions traditionally asked in censuses, such as people's work and working arrangements.

Some new topics are also being considered. Two key areas are:

* Collecting information on whether people have more than one address or home (a second address) and on visitors present at an address on Census Night. This will improve understanding of how people in the UK live, and, in particular, provide information on those who regularly
spend time at different addresses. This could include children whose parents have separated and people who live away from the family home at certain times for work reasons.

* Income. Information about income in broad bands would be used to identify areas of deprivation to help government when developing policies. A question on income has never before been included in a UK Census.

The consultation deals with potential census topics for England and Wales and similar exercises are being carried out in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

ONS officials will be meeting groups of the main census users during visits to the regions of England and Wales in early summer. Written responses from groups and individuals to the consultation should be submitted by Friday 5 August 2005. Details of how to respond are
provided in the document. The consultation has been designed to allow time for questions to be developed for public testing in 2007.


1. Link to the GROS consultation website:

2. Link to the NISRA consultation website:


The other question is on page 9, which asks if you have "deafness or severe hearing impairment". This is rather subjective, and how many old age pensioners who have been hearing all their life, will end up ticking this box, when they've just got some disposable hearing aid from Boots?

On a positive note, perhaps it will counteract some of the ridiculous statistics that keep flying around, such as the DRC says there's 10 million disabled people in the UK, with that corporate charity saying there's 8,945,000 deaf and hard of hearing.

If there's 8,945,000 deaf and hard of hearing, there can only be 1,055,000 other disabled
including: blind, partially sighted, mental health, wheel chair users, dyslexic, aspergers, autistic, diabetes, epilepsy etc. Right? Wrong?

Parliament debates what will actually be included in the census in 2009. We can only hope that BSL is still included, then roll on to 2011.

Comments (3)

You said:

If there's 8,945,000 deaf and hard of hearing, there can only be 1,055,000 other disabled
including: blind, partially sighted, mental health, wheel chair users, dyslexic, aspergers, autistic, diabetes, epilepsy etc. Right? Wrong?

Wrong. Some of those 8,945,000 deaf/HOH people (if there are that many) could themselves be blind, partially sighted, yada yada. Hearing loss and disabilities are hardly mutually exclusive! I, myself, am deaf and ALSO have attention deficit disorder. So that's two disabilities. Or two and a half if you also count the fact that my foot has some chronic problems that means I can no longer run, jump, carry too much weight, and am very easily prone to further reinjury of the same foot.

Also, don't forget that hearing loss really IS very common among very elderly people. I know it's not at all the same from a cultural perspective, but the vast majority of people who are hard of hearing or (yes) even deaf are people who became deaf in old age. That's why there can sometimes appear to be a disconnect between the numbers that are often quoted and our own personal experiences in being practically the only deaf person at school, at work, etc. (except for those lucky enough to put themselves in deaf environments). Us folks who became deaf young enough to find, and join the Deaf community are actually in a very very small minority of all people who have enough of a hearing loss to qualify for some sort of hearing aid (and are therefore technically either deaf or hard of hearing).

I get many people have multiple disabilities, I'm one of these. What I don't accept is the vast discrepancy in figures.

There are many people out there who do not have broken ears.

Elderly or not, no we have 10 million disabled in this country, and 90% of these disabled people cannot be taken up by deaf / hoh, with all others making up 1 million.

Are we saying that not all hard of hearing are disabled, since the DDA refers to a substantial adverse effect on daily life?

There are plans to have a BSl version of the census online!

Check out the following page from the census website


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