WFD at 10th Annual United Nations (UN) Minority Forum

The WFD’s attendance at the UN Minority Forum paves Special Rapporteur’s mandate

Picture 1: WFD Vice President Joseph Murray, WFDYS President Mark Berry,deaf member Esther Vinas Olivero, and CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult) Marco Olsen at the 10th Annual UN Minority Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.

WFD Vice President Joseph Murray, WFDYS President Mark Berry,deaf member Esther Vinas Olivero, and CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult) Marco Olsen at the 10th Annual UN Minority Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.


The WFD was invited to the 10th annual UN Minority Forum in Geneva, Switzerland on the 29th to the 30th of November 2017. The representatives included WFD Vice President Joseph Murray, WFDYS President Mark Berry, deaf member Esther Vinas Olivero, and CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult) Marco Olsen.

One of the biggest achievements is the support and acknowledgement of sign languages as minority languages through strong acclamation from the participants. Additionally, the Special Rapporteur (SR) on minority issues, Dr Fernand de Varennes was clear that the recognition and use of sign languages are a part of his mandate, and he is committed to working closely with deaf people and their communities in his work. His report on minority issues can be found here.

We would like to applaud SR Varennes’ recent work in Slovenia from 5-13 April 2018, where he held consultations on the human rights situation. In particular, we celebrate the effort taken to include the perspectives of the Slovenian Deaf and hard of hearing community who use sign language and are a part of a linguistic minority. We hope that he will continue to meet with deaf representatives in his work. More information about his report and specific details surrounding the Slovenian deaf community can be found here.

At the forum, Vice-President Murray reminded the participants that every single one of the minority groups represented at this forum also had signing deaf people within their group.

“Each cultural, linguistic, and ethnic minority group here has signing deaf people within your group…when you go back to your communities, when you go back to your countries, please support the sign language rights of deaf people in your countries and in your communities.”

It is important for the WFD to advocate from both the disability and linguistic minority perspectives, as deaf rights are uniquely situated in both categories. Sign languages are minority languages within a larger national community, and so the linguistic rights to use these languages are central to the overall achievement of deaf people’s human rights.

It is particularly important for deaf children to be educated in sign language with direct communication with teachers and peers in sign language. Unfortunately, the linguistic and cultural minority perspective of deaf children is often overlooked or not understood. “Only 2% of deaf children receive bilingual education in sign language and the written language of the country”, WFDYS President Berry shared.

As a result, many deaf children do not have access to sign language. This is a grave and unprecedented, human rights violation with long-lasting effects on deaf people’s academic, social, economic and emotional experiences. 

WFDYS President Berry urged stakeholders to collaborate with the WFD and WFDYS to address these issues.


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The WFD also had the opportunity to host a side event for the first time to bring different perspectives about sign languages as minority languages. The WFD representatives acted as panelists and delivered impactful opening statements.

Although the UN has recognised sign languages as legitimate languages and even declared September 23rd the International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL), there are still a lot of misconceptions about sign languages. Our presence at the forum successfully addressed those misunderstandings. The WFD looks forward to collaborating with the Special Rapporteur in promoting sign language use for all deaf people. Special thanks to the Ål folkehøyskole og kurssenter for døve and Castbergaard Folkehøjskole for their support in making this work possible! Summary video of the 2-day event can be found here:



To ensure that no deaf child is being ignored and excluded in education, donate to the WFD Fighting Fund here.