World Federation of the Deaf was established in Rome, Italy on 23 September 1951 during the first World Congress of national Deaf associations under auspices of Italian Deaf Association. This early date makes it one of the oldest international organisations of people with disabilities in the world.
At the first World Congress, there were only 25 national associations of the Deaf delegates attended.
By 2008, the number of Ordinary Members (national associations of the Deaf) had reached 132, representing all five continents.
Dr. Cesare Magarotto was one of the founders of World Federation of the Deaf and its first General Secretary (1951-1987) along with Mr. Vittorio Ieralla who was elected as the President from 1951 -1955.
Mr. Ieralla and Dr. Magarotto successfully convinced the Italian government to support their efforts to establish a WFD General Secretariat in Rome, in 1951. With continued support from the Italian government and later with the ENS, the WFD General Secretariat was able to establish informative and advocacy networks, with national federations of the Deaf around the world. Decades later, the WFD General Secretariat relocated to Finland (1987), with support from the Finnish government and the Finnish national of the Deaf leaded by the former WFD General Secretary Dr. Liisa Kauppinen (WFD President Emeritius).
The magazine of the WFD, The Voice of Silence began publication in 1957 in French and English, two written languages of the WFD, in which later was replaced by the WFD-managed WFD News in 1987.
In 2003, Dr. Kauppinen stepped down at the end of her term as President of WFD. At the 16th General Assembly at Montréal, Canada in July 2003 voted on Mr. Markku Jokinen of Finland as the succeeding President. The delegates at the 17th General Assembly in Madrid, Spain in July 2007 approved Finland as the legal seat for WFD.
The first World Congress began in Rome in the year 1951. The 11th World Congress in Tokyo, Japan in 1991 attracted 7000 persons from all over the world, which was the largest congress ever. (see more info on Congresses and themes in timeline events and World Congresses section of the website).
The WFD General Assembly takes place every four years, prior to the World Congress. The 17th General Assembly was the largest ever with 94 delegates, which was held at Madrid, Spain in July 2007, due to that the Spanish Government provided grants for delegates from developing countries to attend the General Assembly and the World Congress.
WFD cooperated with the United Nations (UN) and its agencies since the late 1950’s. WFD has been very involved in advocacy and networking with the UN, International Disability Alliance / Caucus and the Ordinary Members to collaborate on and lobby for their rights, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilites (CRPD) since the meeting of the Ad Hoc group in Mexico in the year 2005 which was finally adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 and is undergoing ratification by the member states of the UN.