A bill which would make British Sign Language a legally recognised language has received government backing.
The proposed law, which passed its first hurdle in the Commons on Friday, would require public bodies to promote the language.
Actor Rose Ayling-Ellis has been one of those campaigning for the change.
The bill was put forward by Labour’s Rosie Cooper who said it would send “a clear message that they [the deaf community] deserve equal access”.
Announcing the government’s support for the legislation, Work and Pensions Minister Chloe Smith said it was a “significant step towards ensuring that deaf people are not excluded from reaching their full potential”.
During the Commons debate, Ms Cooper told MPs about her experience of growing up with deaf parents – including having to book a family holiday, on behalf of her parents, when she was only four years old.
The West Lancashire MP said children of deaf parents had to “shoulder the responsibility well beyond their years, and that’s not fair”.
She added: “We do it willingly, I never knew any different but we have the chance to help with that.”
Urging MPs to support her legislation, she said: “For every deaf person like my parents, who’ve been ignored, misunderstood, or even treated as unintelligent for simply relying on BSL (British Sign Language), this recognition will be a clear and will be a message that their language is equal and should be treated as equal.”
Ms Cooper’s bill is a Private Member’s Bill – the name for laws proposed by backbench MPs. They often do not become law, because they run out of Commons time.
But by securing government support, Ms Cooper has significantly increased the chances of the bill being passed.
If the bill does pass, the government would be required to follow new guidance on how the use of BSL can be put in place across services. It also calls for a British Sign Language Council to be formed to promote and advise on the use of BSL.
Ms Ayling-Ellis, who has supported the bill, told the BBC: “If I go to the doctor and there’s no interpreter it means I have to bring a family member with me. But I don’t want that, I want privacy.”
David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association, said: “This bill has been 19 years in the making.
“Deaf people in Britain never gave up hope that their language would one day be not only recognised in law, but also protected and promoted so that deaf people are finally able to access information and services and achieve their potential on an equal basis with their fellow hearing citizens.”
According to figures from the British Deaf Association, up to 250,000 people use some BSL on a daily basis.
BSL is not currently recognised as an official language in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In 2015 Scotland recognised BSL as an official language.
On Friday, the British Sign Language Bill passed its first hurdle in the House of Commons when MPs approved it at second reading. The bill will now move on to committee stage where it will be scrutinised line-by-line by MPs.