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The fact that Penny Mordaunt used sign language to announce the world’s first global disability conference in London is a great step forward in awareness and action. The UN’s Global Goals promote equality for everyone, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, or other status, and you can join us by taking action to help end inequality here

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.

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. 

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“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.” 

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.

Read more: This YouTuber Shows How to Say Different Sexualities in British Sign Language

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.

“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.

Read more: This British Oscar Winner Signed Her Acceptance Speech and It Was Beautiful

“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. 


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This UK Minister Just Made History by Using Sign Language in Parliament

By Imogen Calderwood