International Week of the Deaf 2016

The International Week of the Deaf, observed annually during the last full week in September, will be celebrated from 19 till 25 September 2016. This Day aims to draw the attention of governments, authorities and the general public to the accomplishments of deaf people and the concerns of the deaf community.

What is International Week of the Deaf?

International Week of the Deaf (IWD) is an initiative of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). First launched in 1958 in Rome, Italy at the first WFD World Congress. Since then, it is celebrated annually by the global deaf community.

IWD is commemorated throughout the world through various activities (marches, debates, campaigns, exhibitions and meetings), inviting participation and involvement from families, peers, governmental bodies, professional sign language interpreters, Disabled People’s Organisations and International NGOs like CBM. This is the only week in a year that sees a concerted global advocacy to raise awareness about the deaf community at individual, community and governmental level. It is about uniting as a global community to promote the rights of deaf people and highlight specific human rights topics that merit attention. Each year sees a new theme.


Theme for 2016

This year the theme for the International Week of the Deaf is: ‘With Sign Language, I am Equal’.

CBM believes that it is of utmost importance for deaf children to be able to use sign language at an early age and in all areas of life . This approach enables them to learn communication in order to express their needs, desires, emotions and social interaction. Whilst hearing children express communication and language through the spoken word, deaf children need sign language. The most effective way is to learn from adults who are fluent in sign language users. No-one would dispute the statement that if the deaf child is to communicate effectively with the hearing world, he/she must acquire facility in speech, speech reading and writing. Meadow (2005) notes that if a deaf child is to communicate effectively within the Deaf community, fingerspelling and sign language needs to be developed. Having confidence in their own identity and language will also give confidence to communicate with either deaf or hearing people.

  • Birth Right: Deaf children need access to sign language from birth in order to develop communication and language with others improving their cognitive and social skills to development
  • Accessibility: Deaf people need access to public information via sign language interpreting, subtitling and / or close captioning. These are vital if there is to be equal access to public service e.g. health, social justice, employment.
  • Equal Employment Opportunities: Competency and provision of Sign language interpreters mean that deaf people can do almost any job.
  • Lifelong Learning: Access to education (from an early age), vocational and on-going professional development and training is key to allowing independent living.
  • Equal Participation: Deaf people need to have the same access to personal, public and political as everyone else, particularly taking on leadership roles. This in turn will enable them to advocate for their rights and that of others - ‘Nothing About us Without Us’
  • Bilingual Education: Stakeholders need to understand that access to education for deaf boys and girls required a ‘bilingual education’ (a social-cultural approach of using sign language as the language of instruction in all subjects with parallel strong emphasis on teaching reading and writing of the language used in the country)’.
  • Equal Language: Recognising sign language as valid linguistic language with its own way of conveying thoughts, idea, emotions, rich vocabulary and grammar; confirmed in research since the late 1970s.
  • Deaf Identity: Respects deaf peoples as belonging to a cultural and linguistic community, using sign language as their mother tongue to communicate.

Quotes from CBM employees who are deaf:

With sign language, I am human. I can communicate – understand and be understood, equally like everyone else
Philip Waters, Programme Officer at CBM Australia
With sign language I can access information on an equal basis with others. For example in work meetings I can follow and participate equally.
Elena Down, Senior Technical Advisor, Disability Inclusive Development at CBM Australia

How does CBM support Sign Language

Within the CBM workplace, deaf employees are provided with sign language interpreters and / or close captioning both in the work place, for visits and in meetings (internal and external) according to the employees need. In addition, hearing colleagues are provided with opportunities to learn sign language. These can be in the form of short in house courses, learning from deaf colleagues or attending sign language classes externally.

In project based work, partners are supported to strengthen the use of sign language through a number of activities. Among these are: providing sign language and Deaf culture courses; supporting deaf associations and develop their leadership skills (e.g. supporting their  attendance to World Federation of the Deaf Conferences); provide education to deaf children through the medium of sign language; publishing sign language dictionaries; ensure that deaf boys, girls, men and women understand their rights to access sign language (e.g. providing training to deaf adults as part of awareness about the CRPD so that they can training others); providing awareness to families and their communities on the importance of sign language; training for teacher education (deaf and hearing); training for sign language interpreters.

Why is CBM supporting IWD

CBM strives towards a world where human diversity is celebrated where persons with disabilities enjoy equitable access to all services. CBM employs a number of persons who are hard of hearing or deaf in different offices across the world and recognises sign language and close captioning as important aspects of their inclusion. Recognising the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), CBM provides communication services as required by the individual concerned. All persons who are deaf or hard of hearing have their own individual communication needs. As an organisation CBM strives to provide for their needs in a way that ensures that full inclusion is enjoyed by all – both by persons who are hearing as well as those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

If we want to live in a world which is diverse, inclusive and accepting of all persons, then learning to communicating in sign language is an essential part of the journey. I feel privileged to have spent most of my professional life providing for and promoting the right of deaf and hard of hearing people to access education. For deaf boys and girls, this means access to fluent sign language users be they deaf adults, hearing teachers or having the support of sign language interpreters. I am proud to be working in an organisation which not only talks about diversity, inclusion and rights, but practices this through employing a number of deaf people in a range of different positons in different countries.
Quote by Sian Tesni, Senior Education Advisor at CBM

More reading

Campaigning to have South African Sign Language (SASL) recognised as the 12th official language in South Africa

‘With Sign Language, I am equal’