iSign: The Lancashire community out to make communication easier for British Sign Language users
It was an incident in a local supermarket which really opened Bradley Buksh’s eyes to the importance of communication. Bradley’s father, who works with him at Integrationale Care in Nelson in Pendle, was shopping when he saw a commotion near the toilets and went over to help.
A woman, clearly upset, was trying to communicate using British Sign Language to ask if the disabled toilets were unisex. Thanks to his work at Integrationale Care, a centre offering support to people with a range of disabilities, Bradley’s father was familiar with Makaton, a basic gesture-based language system which can be used by individuals with cognitive impairment in lieu of the more complex British Sign Language.
He conveyed to her that the toilets were indeed unisex and that she was free to use them. Her relief was palpable and her gratitude at finding someone with whom she could speak had her welling up.
When he heard this story, Bradley - who has worked with adults with learning difficulties, physical disabilities, mental health issues, and multi-sensory impairment for over 10 years - gained an even keener appreciation of the importance of communication. He set about trying to ensure that incidents like the one in the supermarket could be avoided as much as possible.
“Effective communication is perhaps one of the most undervalued of all human attributes and yet, arguably, the most crucial,” says Bradley. “Without the basic passing of information from one person to another we wouldn’t learn or have accomplished anything near to what we have a species.”
Now on a mission to facilitate communication across Lancashire, Bradley was moved to create the iSign Badge, a discreet marker which people can wear to convey their signing skills to people who rely on BSL or Makaton. Rather than a marker denoting fluency, it is a sign which says ‘I can help if you need me’.
“Encouraging more people to learn a degree of BSL and/or Makaton is fundamental for social inclusion,” explains Bradley. “One in six of the UK population is deaf. Deaf people are more likely to have poor mental health (50% of the deaf community compared to 25% of the general population) or be unemployed (35% of working-age deaf people compared to 21% of the general population).
“It’s paramount to progress as a society to enable effective communication across the board,” he adds.
The idea for the badge came from a TV show in which two sign language-users were approached by a clerk in a store who could also sign. Wondering why the employee didn’t have a badge to let sign language-users know they could sign, Bradley - already looking for a way he could help people communicate better in public life - launched the iSign Badge.
Hoping to create a community of people dedicated to helping others communicate more fluidly in public life, Bradley is also hoping that the iSign Badge will raise deaf awareness and encourage more people to pick up a few helpful signs in order to assist members of the community.
“At some point, we all ask a member of the public for directions [and] wearers of the iSign badge can easily and subtly convey the message that they have some knowledge of signing and can be approached,” he says. “You really don’t need to be fluent to be asked ‘where is the bathroom’. Basic communication such as this is an essential part of life most of us take for granted, and it doesn’t have to exclude the deaf community.
“I would urge everyone to attempt to pick up a few helpful signs,” he continues. “My favourite aspect [of the job] is seeing growth with regards to personal development, and the lock-down has given us the perfect opportunity to pick up a new skill which could help somebody when life gets back to normal.
“Try and include signs that a member of the community may request, for example: ‘toilet’ or ‘coffee shop’,” Bradley says. “Give it a go!”