OUR WORK / Human Rights of the Deaf

Advancing human rights and sign language worldwide.

Human Rights

Human rights are universal, indivisible and interconnected. They belong to all people, regardless of gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status such as disability or deafness. Unfortunately, due to societal prejudices and incorrect assumptions, deaf people’s rights are often overlooked or denied – especially in developing countries. The WFD works towards promoting and advancing human rights of deaf people particularly in the following areas:

Draws upon the principle of basic human rights in relation to language acquisition at birth. When acquired fast, it enables deaf children to have full communication with people, improving their cognitive and social skills. Deaf children need access to sign language from birth.

As emphasised by the CRPD, sign language is inseparable from deaf people’s human rights. Without sign language, deaf people are not equal.

There are hundreds of sign languages in our world today, all of which are unique and independent from spoken languages. For instance, American Sign Language and British Sign Language are very different, even though both countries speak English. Some countries even have multiple sign languages. To embrace diversity in our world, we must protect the hundreds of sign languages in use throughout our world today. The WFD work relentlessly  towards recognition, promotion and protection of sign languages.

Each sign language has its own unique structure, grammar, and lexicon, and sign languages are equal to spoken languages in every way. Numerous studies have shown that sign language supports the development of brain function and social skills. Contrary to popular belief, evidence shows it even supports spoken language in native signing children with cochlear implants, and decreases negative effects of early auditory deprivation for spoken language development.

Language and culture are inseparable, and sign language(s) are a critical component of deaf culture and the deaf identity. Sign language is vital to every deaf person’s cognitive, social, emotional, and linguistic growth. Without early sign language exposure, deaf children are deprived of a strong language foundation. This is why the WFD promotes sign language rights for deaf children, and the right to bilingual education for all.

Access to sign language gives deaf people access to the world.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS THAT SUPPORT SIGN LANGUAGE RIGHTS:

  • CRPD Article 2: Makes clear that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages.
  • CRPD Article 21.b: Allows deaf people to choose to give and receive official communications in the way they choose, including in sign languages.
  • CRPD Article 21.e and 24.3b: Obligates the governments to encourage the learning of sign language and promote the linguistic identity of the Deaf Community.
  • CRPD Article 23.3: Requires the governments to provide early and comprehensive information, services and support to children with disabilities and their families, including information about deaf culture, sign language and bilingual education.
Like any group of people who share a common language, deaf people have their own culture. This includes beliefs, attitudes, history, norms, values, literary traditions, and art shared by deaf people in the same community or country.

While it varies from country to country, deaf communities share a sign language and common heritage, and therefore identify themselves as members of a cultural and linguistic minority. In fact, the CRPD states that deaf culture should be recognised and supported as a basic human right. Similarly, the WFD identifies deaf people as belonging to a cultural and linguistic community, who use sign language as a mother tongue or natural language to communicate.

The deaf identity is often tied to fluency in a signed language, and identification with the deaf community is a personal choice. A deaf community can include people of varying degrees of hearing loss, family members of deaf people, sign language interpreters, and individuals who work or socialise with deaf people.

Deaf people regularly come together in deaf clubs, events, sporting matches and conventions to celebrate their cultural identity. In addition to advocating for the right to deaf culture, the WFD celebrates the diversity deaf culture adds to our world by hosting events around the globe.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS THAT SUPPORT DEAF CULTURE AND LINGUISTIC IDENTITY

  • CRPD Article 30.4: Requires the governments to recognise and support specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.
Approximately 56 million deaf people, 80% of the 70 million deaf people in our world today, receive no education at all. This is especially true among deaf women, girls, and people in developing countries. This is a profound breach of the universal right to education.

Even when education is provided to deaf people, it is almost always inferior to educational standards and opportunities provided to hearing persons. As research has repeatedly shown, the importance of quality childhood early and primary education as well as accessible secondary, tertiary and lifelong learning cannot be understated.

The WFD strongly believes that every deaf person has a right to bilingual education, a social-cultural approach, which uses sign language as the language of instruction, while equally emphasising the use of the written language(s) in that country.

The CRPD, promotes deaf culture and the linguistic identity of the deaf community. It is important that sign language and deaf culture is promoted through means and methods of education.  As such, the WFD strongly advocates for bilingual education. Only about 1-2 % of deaf people across the globe access education through sign language. Too often, sign language is prohibited in educational institutions or is muddled by use of total communication, a method that has been shown to be ineffective and widely inconsistent, especially in comparison to the bilingual approach.

To be successful academically and included socially, deaf students must be in bilingual environments with other deaf role models and learners.

The WFD urges national, state and provincial governments, as well as public and private educational institutions, to ensure the right to education for deaf learners by:

  • Providing bilingual education to deaf learners, which will enable them to succeed to their maximum potential,
  • Ensuring that deaf learners have deaf peers to develop strong language and cultural identity;
  • Consulting directly with deaf people and their associations on how to best meet their educational needs, and
  • Training, hiring, and promoting qualified teachers who are fluent in sign language, especially teachers, assistants and aides who are deaf.

Visit our resources page for more information about best practices, tools, and approaches to deaf education.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS THAT SUPPORT BILINGUAL EDUCATION:

  • Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (paragraph 21 in page 18): Addressed the right to receive education in a national sign language for deaf children.
  • CRPD Article 24.1: Requires the governments to ensure inclusive education system at all levels.
  • CRPD Article 24.3b: Ensures the right to learn sign language and promotes linguistic identity of the Deaf Community.
  • CRPD Article 24.4: Requires teachers of deaf children to be qualified in sign language
  • 2030 Agenda, Goal 4.5: By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.
  • 2030 Agenda, Goal 4.a: Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
Access to education, vocational training, and ongoing professional training and development, is key to gaining and retaining a job and earning a wage that allows independent living.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS THAT SUPPORT LIFELONG LEARNING:

  • CRPD Article 5, 24.5 and 27: Requires the government to ensure vocational and lifelong learning.
  • 2030 Agenda, Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
To make informed decisions, we need an informed world. Too often, lack of accessibility bars deaf people from sharing and learning information with others. Information and communication across all areas of life should be accessible via sign language interpreting, subtitling, and/or close-captioning. A key factor to accessibility for public services such as healthcare, employment, social welfare or any other government services is provision of and access to sign language interpreters.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS THAT SUPPORT ACCESSIBILITY:

  • CRPD Article 9 and 21: Requires governments to provide for accessibility to information and communication.
  • 2030 Agenda, Goal 11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
  • 2030 Agenda, Goal 11.7: By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
Although most countries recognise that deaf people have the right to work and earn a salary, few have anti-discrimination legislation at the workforce that protects deaf people against discrimination at work. Most countries also claim to provide deaf people the opportunities to work and lifelong learning, but it is important to note that, with closing of schools for deaf children associated with very high illiteracy and unemployment rates, and great scarcity of sign language interpreters, the reality is far different.

Sign language competency for communication and provision of interpreters mean that deaf people can do almost any job. It is important for deaf people to equally aspire securing jobs that reflect their interest and competency. The main barriers to employment arise from inaccessiblework environments rather than an inability to hear.

For instance, there are still some countries that do not permit deaf people to obtain a driver’s license. In doing so, it limits their employment opportunities, freedom of movement and access  to various social arenas and life in general. Although these countries do not have legislation that explicitly prohibits and prejudices, common practice by the traffic authorities or other institutions handling driver’s licenses and driver training seem to be the major obstacles against deaf people obtaining a driver’s license. It is important to note that there are no known reports that deaf drivers are a threat to other road users in the countries where deaf people are allowed to obtain a driver’s license, or that they are involved in more traffic accidents or injuries than the general population.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS THAT SUPPORT EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES:

  • CRPD Article 27: Requires the governments to provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ (adjustments and supports) to deaf employees.
  • 2030 Agenda, Goal 8.5: By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
Deaf people need to have equal access of participation in the personal, public and political area as everybody else.

In some countries, deaf people face discrimination and are unable to marry, inherit property, vote, or become elected, become a jury member or reproduce children. Deaf people are often deprived from participation in the political life due to poor accessibility, and lack of information in sign language on political affairs debates and questions. Because they are unequally treated in this respect they are unable to make informed choices and many become politically inactive.

More importantly, it is necessary to ensure that deaf people have the opportunity to takeup leadership roles, so that deaf people themselves can appropriately advocate for their rights and be involved in all decision-making processes concerning their lives. This is a reflection of the slogan ‘Nothing About us Without Us’.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS THAT SUPPORT EQUAL PARTICIPATION:

  • CRPD Article 5: Requires that the governments prohibit all discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantee to persons with disabilities, including deaf people, equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds.
  • CRPD Article 12: Requires the government to ensure that persons with disabilities, including deaf people, enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.
  • CRPD Article 20: Requires the government to take effective measures to ensure personal mobility with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities, including deaf people.
  • CRPD Article 29: Requires the government to guarantee and promote an environment that ensures effective and full participation in political and public life on an equal basis with others, including the opportunity
  • CRPD Article 23: Requires the government to take effective and appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities, including deaf people, in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships, on an equal basis with others.
  • CRPD Article 24: Obligates the governments to facilitate the learning of sign language and to promote the linguistic identity of the Deaf Community, so that they learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community.
  • 2030 Agenda, Goal 10.2: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.

To learn more about Human Rights, download the following toolkit:

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