It’s apparently the month for firsts in the House of Commons.
Just last week, Danielle Rowley MP became the first woman to publicly reveal in parliament that she was menstruating, in a debate about period poverty.
And now Penny Mordaunt, secretary of state for international development, has made history by using British Sign Language (BSL) from the frontbench.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt uses sign language at the despatch box. pic.twitter.com/Bsxcy4j0pY— Richard Morris (@imrichardmorris) July 4, 2018
Mordaunt, also the minister for women and equalities, used BSL to announce that the world’s first global disability conference will be held in London on July 24.
“For too long in the world’s poorest countries, disabled people have not been able to reach their full potential because of stigma or not enough practical support,” she said.
“I am proud to be focused on this area which has been neglected for too long,” she added. “The conference will support the global effort to advance disability inclusion for some countries’ most vulnerable people.”
WOW Penny Mordaunt is using sign language to talk about the international commitment to disability issues.— Sean Dilley NEWS (@seandilleyNEWS) July 4, 2018
The conference is being organised by the UK government, the Kenyan government, and the International Disability Alliance. Its aim is to galvanise the global effort to address disability inclusion in the world’s poorest countries, and act as the start point for major change.
Her speech reportedly makes Mordaunt the first government minister to use sign language in the House of Commons — although Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities minister, became the first MP to use BSL in the Commons last year.
Rare applause in the House of Commons after DIfD Sec Penny Mordaunt answers a whole question in British Sign Language— Arieh Kovler (@ariehkovler) July 4, 2018
“It is fantastic to see the minister using British Sign Language in parliament,” Susan Daniels, CEO of the National Deaf Children’s Society, told the Mirror.
And, with BSL being the first language of over 70,000 people in the UK, the “high profile” use of it is vital for raising awareness and getting more people learning it.
“That is precisely why moments like this are to be welcomed, but they also highlight how far we have to go to reach real parity of esteem for BSL as a language,” added Daniels.
“Deaf children can achieve anything in life, if given the right support, and we will keep campaigning to make sure this is a reality,” she said.
After Mordaunt’s speech, Commons speaker John Bercow responded by saying, and appearing to sign, “that is good news.”
In her cabinet role, Mordaunt heads up the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), which has put disability at the heart of its development agenda.
People with disabilities have a much lower employment rate in both developed and developing countries, according to DfID. It added that in Bangladesh, for example, some £41 million is lost every year because people with disabilities don’t have the right support in accessing education and employment.