The Legal recognition of National Sign Languages

Deaf people worldwide have historically faced, and continue to face, discrimination with regard to the use of their national sign languages.  This includes  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 disaster. 

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.  In addition to robust legislation with actionable rights, we aim to ensure national policies are put in place that implement these linguistic rights, namely, deaf people’s right to use their national sign languages in all areas of life.  

Meaningful legal recognition of national sign languages lead to better enjoyment of human rights.

The World Federation of the Deaf is pleased to continue updating information regarding countries that have legally recognised their national sign languages.

CountryYear of Sign Language Recognition
Albania2014
Austria2005
Bangladesh2013
Belgium2003, 2006 and 2019
Bolivia2009
Bosnia and Herzegovina2009
Brazil2009
Bulgaria2021
Canada2019
Chile2010
Colombia1996
Costa Rica2020
Croatia2015
Cyprus2006
Czech Republic2008
Denmark2014
Ecuador2008
El Salvador2014
Estonia2007
Finland1995
Germany2002
Greece2017
Guatemala2020
Honduras2013
Hungary2009
Iceland2011
Ireland2017
Japan2011
Kenya2010
Latvia1999
Lithuania1995
Luxembourg2018
Malta2016
Mexico2005
Netherlands2020
New Zealand2006
Nicaragua2009
Macedonia2009
Panama1992
Papua New Guinea2015
Paraguay2020
Peru2010
Philippines2018
Poland2011
Portugal1997
Republic of Korea2015
Romania2002
Russian Federation2012
Slovakia1995
Slovenia2002
South Africa1996
Spain2007 and 2010
Sweden2009
Turkey2005
Uganda1995
Uruguay2001
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)1999
Zimbabwe2010

Update: 22 January 2021

The WFD continues to receive updated information of 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 susana.stiglich@wfdeaf.org with the evidence of this legislation.