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.
Sign 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.
|“||It is now increasingly recognised that signing deaf people constitute a group like any other non-English speaking language group in Australia, with a distinct sub-culture recognised by shared history, social life and sense of identity, united and symbolised by fluency in Auslan, the principal means of communication within the Australian Deaf Community.||”|
—Australia's Language: The Australian Language and Literacy Policy (page 20). (Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1991)
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: http://www.oeglb.at
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
- 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."
- 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.
|“||Cultural recognition entails that the Flemish Government recognises the Flemish Sign Language as the language of the Deaf Community in Flanders. This 'recognition' encompasses the following three meanings: (1) the Flemish Government acknowledges the correctness of the fact that the Flemish Sign Language is the language of the Deaf Community in Flanders, (2) the Flemish Government also accepts the existence of this language in the judicial domain and treats her accordingly and (3) the Flemish Government expresses her respect for this language.||”|
—Decreet houdende de erkenning van de Vlaamse Gebarentaal (Decree on the recognition of the Flemish Sign Language)
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").
English Canadians use American Sign Language. York University (Toronto) offers degrees in culture studies including deaf culture.
In Quebec and some other French speaking regions, Quebec Sign Language is used.
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).
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 European Parliament [...] calls on the Commission to make a proposal to the Council concerning official recognition of the sign language used by deaf people in each Member State.||”|
Finnish Sign Language was recognised in the constitution in August 1995.
|“||Section 17 - Right to one's language and culture [...] The rights of persons using sign language and of persons in need of interpretation or translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act.||”|
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.
|“|| This National Curriculum Guide contains, for the first time, provisions on special Icelandic instruction for students whose mother tongue is not Icelandic. There are also new provisions on special Icelandic instruction for deaf and hearing-impaired pupils and sign-language instruction for the deaf. The objectives for Icelandic instruction of immigrants and the deaf and of sign-language instruction fall under the subject area of language arts (Icelandic) in compulsory school. [...]
Sign language is of basic importance for the development of language, personality and thinking of deaf children. For the deaf, sign language is the most important source of knowledge and their route to participation in Icelandic culture and the culture of the deaf. Sign language is of great importance for all school work and for the pupils’ life and work.
There is no official recognition of Indian Sign Language.
There is no official recognition of Irish Sign Language yet. However, there have been many calls to make Irish Sign Language the third official language in Ireland, after Irish and English, which would require an amendment to the consitution - which can only happen via a referendum. 
"Israeli Sign Language is recognised as a form of communication with government agencies" (from the Hebrew Wikipedia article on Israeli Language Policy). However, the list of language legislation in that same article shows no law pertaining to sign language.
See also שפת סימנים ("sign language") in Hebrew.
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 Sign Language of the Netherlands has not been recognised officially by law. There is some public funding for sign language projects.
|“||Part 2 cl 6: New Zealand Sign Language is declared to be an official language of New Zealand.||”|
In Northern Ireland, both British Sign Language (which may be understood to include Northern Ireland Sign Language) and Irish Sign Language were recognised as official languages by the Northern Ireland Office, 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.
|“||Art. 74, 2 (h): In implementing the education policy, the state shall be charged with protecting and developing Portuguese sign language, as an expression of culture and an instrument for access to education and equal opportunities.||”|
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.
|“||Article 13,4: The Generalitat shall grant the use of the own sign language of deaf persons, which shall have to be purposed in education, protection and respect.||”|
Galicia is said to be working on a bill concerning the recognition of a sign language.
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.
|“||XXIV (iii). The State shall [...] promote the development of a sign language for the deaf."||”|
United States of America
Many individual states have laws recognising American Sign Language as a "foreign language" for educational purposes; some recognise ASL as a language of instruction in schools.
- ↑ "... 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 ..."
- ↑ "Die 'erkenning' omvat hierbij de drie betekennissen van het woord: (1) de Vlaamse overheid bevestigt de juistheid van het feit dat de Vlaamse Gebarentaal de taal is van de Dovengemeenschap in Vlaanderen, (2) de Vlaamse overheid aanvaardt het bestaan van die taal ook op juridisch vlak en behandelt ze als dustanig en (3) de Vlaamse overheid uit haar waardering voor deze taal."
- ↑ 17 § Oikeus omaan kieleen ja kulttuuriin [...] Viittomakieltä käyttävien sekä vammaisuuden vuoksi tulkitsemisja käännösapua tarvitsevien oikeudet turvataan lailla. (Ministry of Justice, Finland: Suomen perustuslaki.)
- ↑ Í aðalnámskrá grunnskóla eru í fyrsta sinn sett ákvæði um sérstaka íslenskukennslu fyrir nemendur með annað móðurmál en íslensku. Einnig eru ný ákvæði um sérstaka íslenskukennslu fyrir heyrnarlausa og heyrnarskerta nemendur og táknmálskennslu fyrir heyrnarlausa. Markmið fyrir íslenskukennslu nýbúa og heyrnarlausra og táknmálskennslu falla undir námssvið íslensku í grunnskóla. [...] Táknmál hefur grundvallarþýðingu fyrir þroska máls, persónuleika og hugsunar heyrnarlausra nemenda. Hjá heyrnarlausum er táknmálið mikilvægasta uppspretta þekkingar og leið til að taka þátt í íslenskri menningu og menningu heyrnarlausra. Táknmálið hefur mikla þýðingu fyrir alla vinnu í skólanum og fyrir líf og starf nemendanna. (Ministry of Education, Science and Culture: Aðalnámskrá grunnskóla: Almennur hluti)
- ↑ Na realização da política de ensino incumbe ao Estado proteger e valorizar a língua gestual portuguesa, enquanto expressão cultural e instrumento de acesso à educação e da igualdade de oportunidades. (Assembleia da República: Constituição da república portuguesa
- ↑ La Generalitat garantirà l’ús de la llengua de signes pròpia de les persones sordes, que haurà de ser objecte d’ensenyament, protecció i respecte. (Corts Valencianes: Estatut d'Autonomia de la Communitat Valenciana.)
- Report on the status of Sign Languages in Europe (PDF link)
- Official Recognition of British Sign Languagenl:Erkenning van gebarentalen
There is no pharmaceutical or device industry support for this site and we need your viewer supported Donations | Editorial Board | Governance | Licensing | Disclaimers | Avoid Plagiarism | Policies