Legal recognition of sign languages

Legal recognition of sign languages

The legal recognition of sign languages is one of the major concerns of the international Deaf community. There is no standard way in which such a recognition can be formally or legally extended; every country has its own interpretation. In some countries, the national sign language is an official state language, whereas in others it has a protected status in certain areas such as education. However, symbolic recognition is no guarantee for an effective improvement of the life of sign language users.

ign language status by state


Auslan was recognised by the Australian Government as a "community language other than English" and the preferred language of the Deaf community in policy statements in 1987 and 1991. This recognition does not ensure any provision of services in Auslan, but use of Auslan in Deaf education and provision of Auslan/English interpreters is becoming more common.


Austrian Sign Language (Österreichische Gebärdensprache, ÖGS) was recognised by the Austrian Parliament in 2005. On 1 September 2005 the Austrian Constitution was amended to include a new article: „§8 (3) Die Österreichische Gebärdensprache ist als eigenständige Sprache anerkannt. Das Nähere bestimmen die Gesetze.“ ("Austrian Sign Language is recognised as independent language. The laws will determine the details.")For further information please contact the Austrian Deaf Association:

Further reading

Krausneker, Verena (2005) Österreichs erste Minderheitensprache, in: STIMME von und für Minderheiten # 56 []

Krausneker, Verena (2006) taubstumm bis gebärdensprachig. Die österreichische Gebärdensprachgemeinschaft aus soziolinguistischer Perspektive. Verlag Drava


French Community

The Parliament of French-speaking Belgium recognised LSFB (French-Belgian Sign Language) in a decree of October 2003. This recognition entails:
# a cultural (symbolical) recognition and
# the foundation of a commission that will advise the Government of the French Community in all matters related to LSFB.

In [ "Décret relatif à la reconnaissance de la langue des signes"] (Decree on the recognition of the sign language), from three possible legal interpretations of the term 'recognition', [] the following one was retained: "It concerns a symbolic recognition that goes hand in hand with a general measure, permitting every minister to take action in fields relative to his authority.""... il s'agit d'une reconnaissance cadre assortie d'une mesure d'exécution générale permettant à chaque ministre concerné de prendre les arrêtés d'application relevant de ses compétences ..."]

Flemish Community

Flemish Sign Language was recognised on 2006-04-26 by the Flemish Parliament. This recognition entails:
# a cultural (symbolical) recognition (see excerpt below),
# the foundation of a commission that will advise the Flemish government in all matters related to VGT and
# the structural funding of research and development of VGT. This recognition was accelerated by the most successful petition ever with the Flemish Parliament and the presence of a Deaf member of parliament, Helga Stevens, and her interpreters in the Flemish Parliament.


A 2002 law recognises Brazilian Sign Language in the area of education. It determines that every Deaf child has the right to learn in his or her language and to have Portuguese as a second language. As of 2005, the law is in the process of being implemented (or "regulated").

Czech Republic

Czech Sign Language gained legal recognition as a human language with the passage of the Sign Language Law 155/1998 Sb ("Zákon o znakové řeči 155/1998 Sb") - see the legislation [ here] (in Czech language).

European Union

The European Parliament unanimously approved a resolution about Deaf Sign Languages on June 17 1988 (available online [ here] ). The resolution asks all member countries for recognition of their national sign languages as official languages of the Deaf.

The EP issued another resolution in 1998 with more or less the same content as in 1988, (see RESOLUTION on sign languages for the deaf, Official Journal C 187 , 18/07/1988 P. 0236 []


Finnish Sign Language was recognised in the constitution in August 1995.


Icelandic Sign Language has been recognised by law in education but not yet been recognised as deaf people's first language, as the official language of deaf people is Icelandic. There was a deaf member of Parliament who campaigned on this issue but so far without success.


There is no official recognition of Indian Sign Language.


There is no official recognition of Irish Sign Language yet. However, there have been calls to make Irish Sign Language the third official language in Ireland, after Irish and English, which would require an amendment to the constitution - which can only happen via a referendum. [] []


There is no legal recognition as yet, but the latest draft of the Kenyan constitution is currently (as of 2005) considering the inclusion of Kenyan Sign Language (see the [ KNAD report] on the proposal).

The Netherlands

The Sign Language of the Netherlands has not been recognised officially by law. There is some public funding for sign language projects.

New Zealand

New Zealand Sign Language became the third official language of New Zealand in April 2006, joining Māori and English when the bill was passed in the New Zealand Parliament on April 6, 2006.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, both British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language were recognised as official languages by the Northern Ireland Office, [cite web |url= |title=Paul Murphy announces recognition for sign language |accessdate=2008-06-22 |date=2004-03-30 |publisher=Northern Ireland Office|quote=I am pleased to announce formal recognition for both British and Irish Sign Languages in Northern Ireland.] but they don't yet have the same status as the province's two official minority languages, Irish and Ulster-Scots.


Norwegian Sign Language is recognised by law in education.


South Africa

South African Sign Language is not specifically recognised as a Language of South Africa by the country's constitution, instead it contains the phrase "sign language" in the generic sense. []


On June 28, 2007, Spanish and Catalan Sign Languages were recognised by the Spanish Parliament to be official languages in Spain. This recent legal development has opened a door to reinforced communication in the areas of healthcare, justice, education and MCM.So far, the Autonomous Communities of Catalonia, Andalusia, and Valencia had granted the use of sign languages to the Deaf. In the other Spanish regions no sign languages were so far recognised, and support in terms of sign language interpretation for Deaf persons has been minimal or confined by different budgets. As pointed out, there are three signed languages claimed by Deaf organisations: Spanish Sign Language, Catalan Sign Language (LSC) and Valencian Sign Language (LSPV), although some linguists consider these to be the same.


Although a regional law guarantees the presence of Catalan Sign Language since 1994 in all areas under the Catalan Government, such as education and media, until recently it was officially recognised the LSC in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 2006.


The legal situation in Andalusia is similar to the one in Catalonia, where a regional Law guarantees the presence of the Spanish Sign Language (LSE) in all social scopes since 1998. Recently, a recognition of it is included in the reforming of their Statute of Autonomy. At the moment, Andalusia is the unique Community where LSE is recognised with regards to the rest of Spain. In any case, in linguistic terms, the LSE used there has a strong dialectal variation.


Until recently, Valencia had poor legal support for the Deaf. The approved 2006 Statute of Autonomy grants to Valencian Deaf their right to use Valencian Sign Language (LSPV or LSCV). In the Statute there is no mention about which signed language is telling, but Valencian Deaf entities usually refer it as "Llengua de Signes en la Comunitat Valenciana".


Galicia is said to be working on a bill concerning the recognition of a sign language.

lovak Republic

Slovak Sign Language was recognised in 1995 by law: "Zákon o posunkovej reči nepočujúcich osob 149/1995 Sb" - the Law of the Sign Language of the Deaf 149/1995.


Thai Sign Language was acknowledged as "the national language of deaf people in Thailand" on 17 August 1999, in a resolution signed by the Permanent Secretary for Education on behalf of the Royal Thai Government that affirmed the rights of deaf people to learn this distinct sign language as their first language at home and in schools. According to a [ report by Charles Reilly (1999)] , "specific actions will be taken by the government, including hiring deaf people as teachers and instructors of sign language in deaf schools, and providing interpreters for deaf people in higher education."


There is currently no official recognition of the Turkish Sign Language, the de facto sign language in use by the Turkish deaf community.

On July 1, 2005, the Turkish Grand National Assembly enacted an updated Disability Law (No. 5378), which for the first time in Turkish law made references to sign language. Law no. 15 says that a sign language is to be used in the deaf education system, and law no. 30 says that sign language interpreting is to be provided to deaf people. [] However, these laws are yet to be implemented (as of 2007), and it remains to be seen what form of sign language, if any, will be supported. There has been some discussion in parliament about "developing" a standardised sign language. []

Turkey also has action plans for disability issues, such as the Employment of Disabled Persons Plan (2005-2010) and the Prevention of Discrimination Against Disabled Persons Plan (2006-2010).


On October 8 1995, Uganda's national sign language was recognised in the country's new constitution, making Uganda Sign Language one of the few constitutionally recognised sign languages in the world (WFD News, April 1996). A Deaf signer (27-year-old Alex Ndeezi) was elected to parliament in 1996.

United States of America

Many individual states have laws recognizing American Sign Language as a "foreign language" for educational purposes; some recognize ASL as a language of instruction in schools.


Venezuela Sign Language was recognised in the country's constitution on November 12 1999.



* [ Report on the status of Sign Languages in Europe] (PDF link)
* [ Official Recognition of British Sign Language]

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