Ral­ly­ing in Sup­port of Sign Lan­guages

The McGill Daily - - Contents - ASL classes are of­fered as a SSMU mini­course, thanks to See­ing Voices Mon­treal.

Ev­ery year, the global Deaf com­mu­nity cel­e­brates the In­ter­na­tional Week of the Deaf (IWD) which be­gins with the In­ter­na­tional Day of Sign Lan­guages. This year, the event started on Sun­day, Sep­tem­ber 23, with ral­lies tak­ing place across the coun­try. Pro­test­ers ex­pressed sup­port for the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of the Deaf (CAD), an or­ga­ni­za­tion lob­by­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to rec­og­nize var­i­ous sign lan­guages as of­fi­cial na­tional lan­guages. The CAD points out that over 45 coun­tries al­ready rec­og­nize sign lan­guages as one of their of­fi­cial lan­guages; Canada is not one of them. Pro­test­ers are look­ing for Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage (ASL), Que­bec Sign Lan­guage (LSQ), and In­dige­nous Sign Lan­guages (ISL) to re­ceive of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion by the fed­eral govern­ment.

While talks of rec­og­niz­ing sign lan­guages as of­fi­cial lan­guages of Canada were un­der­way in 2016 through the Ac­ces­si­bil­ity leg­is­la­tion (Bill C-81), the Bill does not ex­plic­itly fo­cus on a com­mit­ment to lan­guage leg­is­la­tion. In­stead, it speaks vaguely of tack­ling “bar­ri­ers to in­clu­sion for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and func­tional lim­i­ta­tions.

Mark Wheat­ley, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Euro­pean Union of the Deaf (EUD), stated to The Daily that the first step in in­creas­ing in­clu­siv­ity for the Deaf com­mu­nity is to rec­og­nize sign lan­guages on a fed­eral level. The ac­cess to and use of lan­guage are hu­man rights that no com­mu­nity should be de­prived of. If sign lan­guages are made of­fi­cial Cana­dian lan­guages, there will be an in­crease in the pres­ence of sign lan­guage in pub­lic ser­vice. While sign lan­guage leg­is­la­tion is not an end-all be-all so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of in­clu­sion and equal­ity for the Deaf com­mu­nity, it is a cru­cial first step. Fund­ing for sign lan­guage school pro­grams is vi­tal to in­creas­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity to ed­u­ca­tion, and pro­vid­ing sign trans­la­tion at events.

How­ever, as ASL be­comes more widely used, chan­nels for spread­ing knowl­edge of ISL re­main lim­ited. Wheat­ley re­sponded to these con­cerns by say­ing that en­abling “In­dige­nous peo­ple to live in­de­pen­dently and par­tic­i­pate fully in all as­pects of life, and ac­cess, on an equal ba­sis with oth­ers, the in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions through sign lan­guage, both in ur­ban and in ru­ral ar­eas, is nec­es­sary.” The recog­ni­tion of ISL as an of­fi­cial lan­guage and a fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment to ex­pand­ing knowl­edge of ISL are im­por­tant steps for lan­guage eq­uity and for is­sues per­tain­ing to In­dige­nous rights in Canada.

Leg­is­la­tion for sign lan­guage must be in­tro­duced to rec­og­nize the fun­da­men­tal right of Deaf peo­ple to lan­guage ac­ces­si­bil­ity, and guar­an­tee their equal ac­cess to pub­lic re­sources in so­ci­ety. We must also be mind­ful that ISL is rec­og­nized on-par with the more wide­spread sign lan­guages, namely ASL and LSQ, to en­sure equal­ity within the Deaf com­mu­nity. As a stu­dent com­mu­nity, we must sup­port ac­tivists try­ing to make sign lan­guages more ac­ces­si­ble in Canada, and pol­icy changes which would de­velop the use of sign lan­guages in the pub­lic sphere.

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