Press Release

IACHR Urges States to Recognize and Promote the Use of Sign Language

October 4, 2018

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Washington, D.C.— To mark the first International Day of Sign Languages, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the region’s states to recognize sign language within their legislation as the official language of all deaf people. The IACHR also recommends that states promote sign language by implementing positive measures that guarantee access to and training in sign languages, including the inclusive teaching of sign language within education systems, the promotion of training programs for sign language interpreters, and sign language training for public officials.

Sign language is one of the ways that the many hearing-impaired people in the region communicate. Each state has its own sign language system and some even have two systems. At present, 13 member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) have recognized sign language in their legislation as the official language used by the deaf community, namely Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

However, the IACHR notes with concern that there are few official sign language interpreters in the region and limited public information is available in sign language. Likewise, there are very few educational establishments with bilingual curricula, in other words, programs that are taught in both sign language and oral languages.

The IACHR has noted with concern the multiple obstacles to communication that deaf people come up against on a daily basis. These have a serious impact on their human rights, including equality before the law, personal integrity, and access to justice. The IACHR wishes to express its support for the UN’s position that officially recognizing sign language is imperative as it is a necessary first step toward recognizing the rights of deaf people.

The Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulate that states have the obligation to take all legislative, administrative, and other types of measure necessary to guarantee that people with disabilities can participate fully in society.

In its Program of Action for the Decade of the Americas for the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities (2016–2026), the General Assembly of the OAS ruled that member states must eliminate all barriers to access for deaf people to education, health, communication, and transportation systems and thus must include sign language in all forms of communication.

The commissioner, Francisco Eguiguren, who leads the Unit on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated: “if we want a truly inclusive society, we must acknowledge the different communication systems used by people with disabilities, because if we do not, we are condemning them to a life of silence, isolation, and misinformation.” He added that “sign language is the traditional language of deaf people and thus must be preserved and promoted in all areas of society. By making today a special day for celebrating sign languages, we have set out on the road to achieving this goal. It is the duty of us all to continue to steward this path until we can fully guarantee that deaf people can communicate on an equal basis with other people, thus helping them to participate fully in society and enjoy their rights.”

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 217/18