In the 2011 census, 22,000 people in England and Wales said their "main language" was sign language. Of these 15,500 said their "main language" was BSL. That would be about 24,742 sign language users for the whole of the UK.
The GP Patient Survey is a questionnaire that gets sent to around 2.7 million people every year. After some pressure from SignHealth, it asks "Are you a Deaf person who uses sign language?" In the last year, 0.42% of respondents answered "yes" to this question. If you apply that proportion to the total UK population (61 million), then that would give us 254,000 Deaf people.
You can get another number by looking at Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claims. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions say they are 43,880 people claiming DLA on the basis of their deafness.
So, what’s the real figure? Well, none of them can be dismissed. Their are problems with each of them. The census represents the minimum-there cannot be any less sign language users than that. The GPPS is probably an over-estimate. And the DLA figure is probably close, but under the real number. Which means the 60,000 figure that has been used as an estimate before is probably quite close.
Census confusion - but still the same solution
Figures released from the 2011 census suggest the Deaf community is smaller than many earlier estimates. According to the statistics, there are 21,971 people who consider their main language to be a sign language in England and Wales. That number is for BSL and other sign languages.
While this figure may be lower than many people thought, SignHealth is arguing that it changes nothing. Health services still need to be making reasonable adjustments so the language barrier is removed. It makes no difference whether there is one sign language user or one million.
Indeed, there appear to be far more people whose main language is sign language than other UK languages, such as Gaelic and Cornish. While these languages are offered protection by the Government (and funding) BSL is ’recognised’ - and that doesn’t seem to count for much. http://www.signhealth.org.uk/index.php?pageID=1