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‘Extraordinary’ Newtownabbey pupil campaigning for Sign Language Act in province

A profoundly deaf pupil from Co Antrim is campaigning for a Sign Language Act in Northern Ireland after being made aware of how other people in the d/Deaf community are supported outside of the province.

Alanis Millar is studying A Levels in Life and Health Sciences and Mathematics at Jordanstown School and A Level Health and Social Care at Belfast High School.

Following the completion of her secondary level education, the Antrim teenager, who has attended Jordanstown School since the age of seven, hopes to study Health and Social Care and Social Policy at university.

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Alanis, who has a cochlear implant and a hearing aid, has applied to study her degree at Ulster University or the University of Edinburgh. During the application process for third level education, Alanis was made aware that having a British Sign Language interpreter for her lectures at UU was “not guaranteed”.

Alanis Millar. (Pic Jordanstown School).

However, if Alanis was to study in Edinburgh, an interpreter would be “guaranteed” for her classes. This is due to the Sign Language Act in Scotland.

The Newtownabbey student has now commenced a campaign, appealing for the introduction of a Sign Language Act here.

Her calls were highlighted at the January meeting of Belfast City Council, when the Lord Mayor, Kate Nicholl, read a letter detailing Alanis’s experiences.

In the correspondence, Alanis said: “The d/Deaf community in Northern Ireland have been fighting for a Sign Language Act for a long time.

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Cllr Kate Nicholl. (Pic Pacemaker).

“I believe that this will make a big change for the services to help promote access for d/Deaf people.

“No d/Deaf student should experience the frustration of being held responsible for their own support needs.

“I am writing this letter to you, Lord Mayor, to address the importance of a Sign Language Act on behalf of the d/Deaf community in Northern Ireland.”

Belfast’s first citizen has backed the efforts to have a Sign Language Act in Northern Ireland.

In a statement, Cllr Nicholl, said: “I had the privilege of meeting Alanis in November last year – she’s an extraordinary young woman. I wish Alanis every success with her A levels and in achieving her ambition of pursuing a career in Health and Social Care.

“I have no doubt that she will make a really valuable contribution to this sector. If we’re serious about accessibility and inclusion in Belfast and Northern Ireland, we need to do more to facilitate the d/Deaf community.

“I’m proud to say that Belfast City Council was the first council in Northern Ireland to sign up to the British Deaf Association’s BSL/ISL Charter, committing to provide better access to public services – and our language officer is responsible for promoting and developing BSL/ISL as part of his remit.

“I fully support Alanis in her call for a Sign Language Act in NI to advance social inclusion and improve quality of life for the deaf community.”

Dr Catherine Scully, principal at Jordanstown School, has praised Alanis for her efforts.

Speaking to the Newtownabbey Times, Dr Scully said: “Jordanstown School is very proud of our pupil Alanis Millar. She is a great ambassador for the rights of d/Deaf people in Northern Ireland through her work campaigning for a Sign Language Act.

“Northern Ireland is lagging behind other parts of the United Kingdom in passing this legislation, and Alanis’s recent letter to the Lord Mayor of Belfast highlights very clearly why it is so urgently needed.

“We have no doubt that with her determined and persuasive campaigning, Alanis will have an impact on this important issue.”

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