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International Day of Sign Languages: Theme, Significance and History

Since 2018, the world observes International Day of Sign Languages on 23 September every year. The day is celebrated to spread awareness about the importance of sign languages for the full inclusion of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the mainstream.

History and Background

Proposal for observing the International Day of Sign Languages came from the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the United Nations General Assembly made a declaration on 19 December 2017 for its observance. WFD is an international organization of 135 national associations for the deaf. The WFD represents approximately 72 million deaf people from all around the world.

The World Federation of the Deaf was established on 23 September 1951. Hence, the day of 23 September was chosen as the International Day of Sign Languages.

According to the data provided by the WFD, almost 80% of deaf people reside in the developing countries. Deaf people all around the globe collectively use more than 300 sign languages.

Significance of International Day of Sign Languages

According to the United Nations, the International Day of Sign Languages ‘promotes the linguistic identity of the deaf community’.

As opposed to popular belief, sign languages are not the gestural translation of spoken languages. They are, in fact, full-fledged natural languages that are structurally different from spoken languages. Observance of  the International Day of Sign Languages helps spread awareness about sign languages and their importance in ensuring the inclusion of deaf people.

The day emphasizes the fact that sign languages deserve equal status to the spoken languages not only in theory but in practice too. The observance plays a significant role in safeguarding the right of the deaf community. It also helps preserve the unique ‘deaf culture’ behind different sign languages.

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Themes of International Day of Sign Languages

  • 2021 – We Sign for Human Rights
  • 2020 – Sign Languages are for Everyone
  • 2019 – Sign Languages Rights for All
  • 2018 – With Sign Language, Everyone is Included
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