The deaf community

Only a very small percentage of the British population is severely or profoundly deaf. The precise number of signing deaf people in the UK is unknown; estimates range from 15,000 for England and Wales to 100,000 in England alone.

Of course, a much larger proportion of the population has various types and degrees of hearing impairment. For example, there are over 10 million in the UK who have some form of hearing loss, mostly associated with aging. Very few of these people, however, would know or use BSL.

In contrast, people who have been deaf from early childhood know and use BSL and form the core of the signing deaf community. Interestingly, BSL is the native language (i.e., the language acquired from birth) of only a minority of deaf signers, as most deaf people have hearing parents. BSL is thus not usually passed on to deaf children from their hearing parents, but is instead learned by deaf children from adults outside the family, such as at pre-school or school, or by deaf individuals later in life.

Overall, the deaf community resembles other ethnic and linguistic minority communities in that it forms a distinct subculture within the British community. Deaf people value membership in the signing community, and participation in its organisational networks.

The peak organization of the BSL-using deaf community in the UK is the British Deaf Association.