Deaf people worldwide have historically faced, and continue to face, discrimination with regard to the use of their national sign languages. This includes barriers to natural language access as well as frequently confronting situations of not having equal and real-time access to information and communication in their daily lives. This is particularly acute in educational settings, and the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the critical need to continue working to secure this right in emergency situations and during humanitarian disasters.
The World Federation of the Deaf considers the lack of meaningful sign language legislation on the national level a grave violation of deaf peoples’ fundamental rights.
The WFD’s 2020-2030 Strategic Direction calls for further promotion of the legal recognition of national sign languages. We are committed to supporting our Ordinary Members (national associations of deaf people) in their work to achieve meaningful legal recognition of their national sign languages. All countries have an obligation under the CRPD to promote legal recognition of their national sign languages.
The World Federation of the Deaf is pleased to present this infographic with information on United Nations Member States that have achieved national-level legal recognition of their national sign languages. This compilation comprises legislation from the countries listed that recognise deaf people’s right to use their national sign languages in different areas of life.
This infographic illustrates the various legal frameworks that countries have adopted to recognise deaf people’s linguistic and cultural rights. The legal framework adopted by countries in their recognition promotes understanding of national sign languages as part of the linguistic ecology of that country (Murray, 2020) and that deaf people can enjoy their human rights in all areas of life.
Meaningful legal recognition of national sign languages leads to better enjoyment of human rights.
The aim of this infographic is to share and monitor the advances in the world regarding this objective. This descriptive illustration should motivate countries that continue to advocate for legal recognition of their sign languages, as well as inspire the strengthening of existing policies related to sign languages.
The WFD´s efforts on sign language rights are supported by The Nippon Foundation (TNF) through the project “Securing Access to Sign Language Rights” and are currently being put toward designing a toolkit to support Ordinary Members (OMs). These toolkits will increase the understanding of the steps necessary to begin the process of seeking legal recognition of one’s national sign language and how to develop new strategies to strengthen policies that are being implemented post-recognition. This toolkit will allow OMs to access information on current trends and knowledge gained through best practices and case studies. The WFD and TNF hope that this effort will enable national associations to identify challenges and develop strategies for sign language recognition work using the information and resources that have been compiled.
Description of legal framework categories:
This infographic lists national-level legislation by United Nations Member States. This does not include sub-national recognition legislation. For more information on specific countries, please contact their national deaf association. Kosovo and the Palestian Territories, per the vote of the XX General Assembly of the WFD, are WFD Ordinary Members and also noted on this map.
Legal systems around the world present differences and similarities. In this infographic, we have the following categories in which we have fit the distinct legal frameworks from the countries that are shown in the list. Laws worldwide are very diverse in nature and scope, the order and types of law categories presented here, as De Meulder (2015) has previously stated, do not constitute a hierarchy or ranking in itself, but rather a simple description of distinct legal structures.
|Countries with Sign Language Recognition
|This is the color used in the map that shows all the countries that have any kind of sign language recognition. This recognition takes various forms and confers different rights in different countries.
|Countries without Sign Language Recognition
|Countries that have not achieved national-level legal recognition of their national sign language are depicted in this color. Some countries may have recognition on sub-national levels.
|Countries that have achieved sign language recognition at the Constitutional level.
|General Language Legislation
|Countries that have included their national sign language in their general language legislation.
|Sign Language Law or Act
|Countries that have achieved legal recognition of their national sign language in the form of a law passed by the national legislative body.
|Sign Language Law or Act including other means of communication
|Countries that have achieved the legal recognition of their national sign language in a law that also recognises other forms of communication used by deaf persons and usually includes communication used by deafblind persons. This type of recognition can be in the form of a law passed by a parliament or a decree or high-level government legislation.
|National Language Council Recognition
|Countries that have achieved legal recognition of their national sign language in legislation based on a functioning of a language council.
|Countries that have achieved legal recognition of their national sign language in the form of general disability legislation. This can be a law passed by a national legislative body or executive legislation.
For easier viewing here is the list of the 77 countries that have achieved Sign Language Legislation and the year:
|Year of Sign Language Recognition
|2003, 2006 and 2019
|Bosnia and Herzegovina
|2002 and 2005
|2010 and 2021
|1998 and 2008
|2013 and 2018
|2010 and 2014
|2015 and 2017
|Papua New Guinea
|Republic of Korea
|2007 and 2010
|1981, 2006 and 2009
|2004, 2017 and 2019
|Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
The WFD continues to receive updated information on sign language recognition. If your country’s national sign language legislation is not featured here, please contact the WFD’s Sign Language Rights Officer, Susana Stiglich, at email@example.com with the evidence of this legislation.
De Meulder, M. (2015). The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages. Sign Language Studies, 15(4), 498–506. doi: 10.1353/sls.2015.0018
Murray, Joseph J. (2020). “The Recognition of Sign Languages in the Achievement of Deaf People’s Human Rights” Side Event. 13th Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. World Federation of the Deaf.3 December 2020. https://wfdeaf.org/cosp2020-sideevent/