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International Week of the Deaf – a rallying cry

Published Date: 20 Sep 2019

The theme of this year’s International Week of the Deaf (23-29 September) is ‘Sign Language Rights for All.’ It’s a clarion call for decision-makers to give full language rights to deaf people and sign language users around the world.

As Director of Deaf Child Worldwide, the International Week of the Deaf highlights the important work we and our partners must continue to do together. We still face huge barriers in giving deaf communities a voice that is heard and acted upon by governments and policy-makers. 

Many deaf people around the world are still unaware of their language rights as well as their rights to education, health and other public services. With limited resources and services to help them, many deaf people are growing up in isolation.

Consequently, we have to work harder across countries to break down the barriers that prevent deaf children and young people from acquiring a language, getting an education and being part of wider society.

Things are starting to shift in the right direction, helped by last year’s Global Disability Summit and by the core principle of the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no-one behind’, which have played an important part in highlighting the barriers and challenges that many disabled people face. Many NGOs, think tanks and charities are now coming together, trying to collaborate and work on sustainable solutions. But this is just the beginning.

We know that deaf children who do acquire the appropriate communication skills in their early years and are nurtured with the right support can go on to do great things. But we also know that many countries don’t recognise sign language as a formal language in its own right.

As sign languages aren’t recognised in many parts of the world, there simply aren’t enough teachers of the deaf, sign language interpreters or deaf role models to improve language and communication skills for the many millions of deaf children and sign language users.

Along with our partners, Deaf Child Worldwide is working to find solutions to this seemingly intractable problem. We have been working in Tanzania to help get Tanzanian Sign Language formally recognised as a language and increase the number of trained sign language interpreters in the country.  We’re also supporting the development of a certificate in sign language interpretation at the University of Dar es Salaam - the first course of its kind in Tanzania. The University is now teaching its second cohort of students and both Deaf Child Worldwide and the University are hopeful of developing the course further.

Deaf Child Worldwide will continue to work with partners, communities and families to advocate for better resources and services for deaf children and young people, such as access to specialist teachers and sign language interpreters. We will carry on working with our partners to reach out to deaf children during their critical early years to help them and their families develop fundamental language and communication skills. We’re also going to continue breaking down barriers by promoting the work of our deaf role models, raising deaf awareness and providing inspiration for the thousands of deaf children we work with.

The International Week of the Deaf rallying cry of ‘Sign Language Rights for All’ resonates strongly with Deaf Child Worldwide. We have been making real inroads into the goal of language rights for all and will continue to work with the same vigour and determination that we always have to make the world a better, more inclusive place for deaf children.

Joanna Clark

Joanna is Director of Deaf Child Worldwide, the international development arm of the National Deaf Children's Society.