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Crystal clear: Makaton is not sign language!

This video from the BBC is a controversial topic on social media.

You can see for yourself - it says that Makaton is a "simple form of sign language".

Makaton is not sign language, nor the language of BSL users either. British Sign Language is a language in its own right.

Makaton is a language aid and a communication system that supports spoken English for those with learning/communication difficulties.

British Sign Language is an official language used in the UK that has its own grammatical structure, rules and syntax.

Staff from Bristol's new Nightingale hospital have been learning Makaton as part of their training to help people communicate with each other when they are wearing PPE.

The Deaf community as well as other BSL users do not agree with the video in the article as the lady speaking says that Makaton is sign language. This is of concern as it might give the idea that Makaton should be used when communicating with Deaf BSL users.

It is undeniable how helpful is to use a variety of communication tools to help communicate more effectively while using PPE, but it shouldn't be a replacement for British Sign Language Interpreters and Translators. Using this with Deaf patients is extremely dangerous and could lead to confusion, a communication breakdown and potentially disastrous consequences as a result.

The National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) highlights that "It would be great for hospital staff to learn BSL, but only registered and qualified British Sign Language Interpreters & Translators should provide that information to patients in BSL. This is the safest way too.", and leaves a guidance on d/Deaf People's Access to Healthcare and BSL Interpreting Provision link:

The question is: Why Makaton?

By teaching the NHS staff British Sign Language instead of Makaton it would benefit far more people, furthermore, it would be a lifelong skill, don't you agree?


Deaf Awareness and British Sign Language Online course by Deaf Umbrella

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Mar 03, 2021

I agree that Makaton should not be used to communicate with deaf people and it definitely is not a form of BSL. I do however understand why Makaton is being taught to staff with PPE. Makaton is easy to learn as it is very basic so the staff are using it amongst themselves for very basic interactions and nothing complex.

There are also a number of people with learning disabilities being admitted into hospital without their family or carer's being allowed to be around them in the current climate. So I think its great that staff are able to reassure them and that the patient can make themselves understood.

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