International Day of Sign Languages is observed annually on September 23, along with the celebrations of International Week of the Deaf. It was first celebrated in 1958 and has since evolved into a global movement for deaf unity, one that focuses on raising awareness about the importance of sign language as a means of communication and in ‘full realization of the human rights of people who are deaf,’ according to the United Nations.
The World Federation of the Deaf first made the proposal for this day on December 19, 2017. September 23 is in itself a significant date as it marks the day the World Federation of the Deaf was first established in 1951. This day is particularly significant as it presents the opportunity to ‘support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users.’ According to data collected by the World Federation of the Deaf, there are around 72 million deaf people in the world, and over 300 different sign languages are used by them.
Though in essence, sign languages structurally differ from spoken language, they are full-fledged natural languages, even in its many forms. On a global scale, there is an international sign language which is used for an official meeting or even when informally travelling and socializing.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, acknowledges and encourages the use of sign language. It also recognises that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages. Early access to sign language, like quality education available in sign language is essential to the growth and development of deaf individuals. According to the United Nations, “It recognises the importance of preserving sign languages as a part of linguistic and cultural diversity.”
For the year 2020, the World Federation of the Deaf has issued a ‘Global Leaders Challenge’, which is being organised to promote the use of sign language by locals, national and global leaders who are in partnerships with the national association of deaf people in each country.