Some time ago I was fortunate enough to complete a course in Keyword Signing (see my previous blog) and although it is not exactly the same as British Sign Language it does have some similarities to it. I was intrigued, therefore, when my colleague Lorna asked me this morning if I had seen Google's doodle for the day.

After checking it out I was delighted to see that today, a Google Doodle is celebrating the UK's most widely-used communication for the deaf and Braidwood's Academy, the place where it all began. I was a bit taken aback, however, to discover that I knew exactly nothing about Thomas Braidwood. 

After doing a little research it seems that he was quite a remarkable chap - Thomas Braidwood was born in South Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1715, and established himself as a writing teacher educating wealthy children from his home.

After accepting his first deaf pupil, 10-year-old Charles Shirreff in 1760, Braidwood devoted himself to teaching the deaf.

He established Braidwood's Academy for the Deaf and Dumb in Edinburgh, the first such school in the UK, and by 1780 had 20 pupils as his teaching methods proved successful.

The renowned 18th century writer Samuel Johnson visited the establishment in 1773 while travelling through Scotland.

He wrote: "It was pleasing to see one of the most desperate of human calamities capable of so much help: whatever enlarges hope will exalt courage."

Braidwood had a wife, Margaret Pearson, and three daughters all born in Scotland who later followed in their father's footsteps by becoming teachers of the deaf.

In 1783, Braidwood moved with his family to Hackney, East London, where he established a second school.

The form of sign language which Braidwood used to educate his pupils ultimately laid the groundwork for the British Sign Language used today.

British Sign Language (BSL) is a visual mode of communication which uses gestures, facial expression and body language.

It is the preferred form of signing for deaf people in the UK and following a campaign BSL was recognised as an official language by the UK government in 2003.

Like spoken English, dialects can vary from region to region – so some signs used in Scotland might not be understood by people in the south of England.

There is no universal global sign language, and because BSL is distinct from spoken English it has little similarity with American and Irish sign languages.

BSL is continually evolving, with distinct new signs like internet and laser coming into modern usage, although the fingerspelling alphabet below can be used to communicate words manually.

Although I don't have a BSL qualification we do, under the auspices of the VIVA project, have a number of clients who use Keyword Signing - either to augment their communication skills because of a hearing impairment or because of other communication difficulties. It all plays into our ethos of making sure that ALL those who wish to volunteer are given the opportunity to do so. If you, or someone you know, uses BSL or Keyword Signing and wishes to volunteer or get engaged in your local community activities please get in contact.