"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 first International Day of Sign languages was celebrated in 2018 under the theme “With Sign Language, Everyone is Included!”
The resolution establishing the day 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.
2019 Theme: Sign Language Rights for All!
The over-arching theme of IDSL 2019 is “Sign Language Rights for All!” IDSL corresponds with International Week of the Deaf, and each day of the week has a sub-theme:
- Monday, 23 September - Sign Language Rights for All!
- Tuesday, 24 September - Sign Language Rights for All Children
- Wednesday, 25 September - Sign Language Rights for Deaf Senior Citizens
- Thursday, 26 September - Sign Language Rights for DeafBlind People and Deaf People With Disabilities.
- Friday, 27 September - Sign Language Rights for Deaf Women
- Saturday, 28 September - Sign Language Rights for Deaf LGBTIQA+
- Sunday, 29 September - Sign Language Rights for Deaf Refugees
Why do we mark International Days?
International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. More information available here.