"This International Day recognizes the importance of sign languages for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfilling its core promise of leaving no one behind. It also offers an opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all sign language users." — UN Secretary-General António Guterres
According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 72 million deaf people worldwide. More than 80% of them live in developing countries. Collectively, they use more than 300 different sign languages.
Sign languages are fully fledged natural languages, structurally distinct from the spoken languages. There is also an international sign language, which is used by deaf people in international meetings and informally when travelling and socializing. It is considered a pidgin form of sign language that is not as complex as natural sign languages and has a limited lexicon.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes and promotes the use of sign languages. It makes clear that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages and obligates states parties to facilitate the learning of sign language and promote the linguistic identity of the deaf community.
The UN General Assembly has proclaimed 23 September as the International Day of Sign Languages in order to raise awareness of the importance of sign language in the full realization of the human rights of people who are deaf.
The theme for this year is “SIGN LANGUAGE RIGHTS FOR ALL”! It highlights that full enjoyment of linguistic rights is vital in facilitating the full inclusion of the Deaf Community within society. Its aim is to remind big companies, worldwide organisations and global governments of the importance and significance of sign languages.
Realizing the rights of deaf people starts with ensuring that deaf children have access to education in sign language. Deaf children have a right to a quality education, like all other children, in a language and environment that maximizes their potential. Worldwide, deaf children and young people are often denied an education, including in sign language. There is a lack of teachers well-trained in sign language, and in many cases, parents do not know that their children have a right to go to school and that they can learn if given the right support.
We, at the World Assembly of Youth acknowledges that early access to sign language and services in sign language, including quality education available in sign language, is vital to the growth and development of the deaf individual and critical to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals. It recognizes the importance of preserving sign languages as part of linguistic and cultural diversity. It also emphasizes the principle of “nothing about us without us” in terms of working with deaf communities.
Let us call for stakeholders and young people for action to make the world more inclusive for deaf people!