The International Week of Deaf People (IWDP) is an initiative of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), an international NGO with members in 130 countries. Launched in 1958, IWDP is hosted by deaf communities around the globe in the last full week of September. National, regional, and local events, conferences, commemorations, and community gatherings promote and celebrate the existence of deaf people as cultural and linguistic minorities communities within their countries, and their full inclusion in their societies.
This year’s theme for the International Week of Deaf People is “Celebrating Thriving Deaf Communities”. Deaf communities have been expanding and thriving throughout the years and giving us all strength, now is the time to celebrate their incredible endurance at the local, national and international level. This is an important week for the recognition of deaf people, it is vital for deaf communities and deaf organisations. This falls under the key principle, “Nothing about us, without us!”.
Deaf communities are rich sites of unique cultural expressions in sign languages and recognition should also include promotion of this cultural identity, as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In 2017, the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted the Resolution 72/161 recognising 23 September as the International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL), part of the International Week of the Deaf. The choice of the date corresponds to the foundation of the World Federation of Deaf in Rome, Italy, on 23 September 1951, following more than a century of deaf people organizing on an international level for their rights.
The rationale of the International Day of Sign Languages is to raise awareness on the very existence of sign languages and strengthen their status as full languages globally. With more than 200 distinct sign languages around the world, they are the natural languages of more than 70 million deaf people worldwide and should be recognised as such.
To date, only 61 of the UN’s 193 Member States have undertaken recognition of their national sign languages through a legal instrument. 66% have not done so, despite it being a legal obligation outlined in the CRPD, which is ratified by 182 UN Member States. “The legal recognition of sign languages is an important and necessary first step towards the full equality of deaf people in their national societies” says WFD President Joseph J. Murray. “Further promotion of this right by the UN and its entities will help speed recognition by national governments.” “Every human being needs a language” said Dr. Murray. "Deaf communities have led the way in calling for the status for their national sign languages to be equal to the other national languages. Inclusion of deaf people and their communities in their societies can only be reached by the inclusion of their national sign languages in the linguistic landscape of their countries." Dr. Murray concluded “Let’s use this year’s IDSL and IWDP to build back with national sign languages at the center of our communities.”
This year's International Week of Deaf People takes place from September 20 to 26, each day will have a different theme:
- Monday, 20 September 2021: Cherishing Deaf History
- Tuesday 21 September 2021: Sustainable Deaf Leadership
- Wednesday 22 September 2021: Sign languages for all deaf learners
- Thursday 23 September 2021: We Sign for Human Rights
- Friday 24 September 2021: Intersectional Deaf Communities
- Saturday 25 September 2021: Deaf Culture and Arts
- Sunday 26 September 2021: Human Rights in time of Crisis