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In normal communication, we use visual communication and body language as well as voice. Sign language is a visual method of communicating without sound for those with hearing difficulties and who cannot hear at all.

Sign language has been recorded back as far as 1570 and the first recorded school for individuals who were unable to hear or speak was set up in 1760 and the first public school in London in 1792 so sign language is nothing new.

British Sign Language or BSL is the language used in the UK by deaf people. BSL uses hand gestures, fingerspelling, facial expressions and lip patten’s to communicate words and sentences. BSL is nothing new and has been around for hundreds of years. The first printed records in the UK was in 1644. In the UK there are about 125,000 adults and 20,000 children who use BSL to communicate.

Sign language has its own grammar which is not based on spoken English and there are some regional variations across the UK, as new words enter the English language, sign language evolves to enable the deaf to communicate at the same level as hearing people. In Ireland, there is also Irish Sign Language or ISL.

There is another version of sign language that has the grammar which is based on spoken English called Sign Supported English or SSE.

With SSE, the signs follow the same order that they would be spoken in. SSE is easier for hearing people to learn and is often used where hearing and deaf children are taught side by side.

With adults and children with learning disabilities or communication problems, Makaton language can be used. This uses hand gestures which are similar to BSL and picture symbols to communicate. Makaton is used to encourage people to speak, so a mixture of sign and speech is used.

The final type of language used is Tactile Signing, which is used for deaf-blind people. In the UK there are about 23,000 people who are deaf and blind to different levels. As this group have different levels of impairment, some can see a little or hear a little and they use different communication methods like braille, lip-reading, BSL and they may be able to hear some speech.

They also use tactile signing such as the deafblind alphabet and block, where words are spelt out on the person's hands.