Language justice for Sign Language Peoples: the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Abstract

Sign Language Peoples (SLPs) across the world have developed their own languages and visuo-gestural-tactile cultures embodying their collective sense of Deafhood (Ladd 2003). Despite this, most nation-states treat their respective SLPs as disabled individuals, favoring disability benefits, cochlear implants, and mainstream education over language policies fostering native sign languages. This paper argues that sign language policy is necessary for language justice. Based on interviews with SLPs and policy makers in the UK, this paper argues that ideally sign language policy requires a shift in policy discourse away from a disability construction to one recognizing the minority language status of SLPs. However minority language policy support for the formulation of sign language policies hitherto has been very limited. Conversely, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (UN 2007) offers the best hope for sign language policy notwithstanding its disability framing. The CRPD requires states to recognize sign languages and to support sign bilingual education, where appropriate. It employs a human rights approach, and is a potential stepping stone towards the emergence of minority language policies for SLPs. This paper argues that the CRPD offers a regulatory context that could enable a shift in policy discourse towards the eventual promulgation of the minority sign language policy that many Deaf-SLPs have called for. This strategy, as suggested here, offers the best chance of moving from a situation of social injustice for SLPs to one of language justice where full sign language access is promoted.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Ann, J. (2001). Bilingualism and language contact. In C. Lucas (Ed.), The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages (pp. 33–61). Cambridge: CUP.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bahan, B. (1989). Notes from a ‘seeing’ person. In S. Wilcox (Ed.), American Deaf culture: An anthology (pp. 29–32). Maryland: Linstok Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Batterbury, S. C. E. (2010). Language policy and social justice: The case of BSL, M.Sc. dissertation in Deaf Studies, University of Bristol. Available at http://www.bris.ac.uk/deaf/english/about/staff/sarah-batterbury/bslrecognition.pdf.

  4. Batterbury, S. C. E., Dickinson, M., Robinson, H., Sutherland, H., & West, D. (2011). Signing first: Evaluation of I-Sign: The BSL Pilot project. Department for Education Research Report DFE-RR137.

  5. Batterbury, S. C. E., Ladd, P., & Gulliver, M. (2007). Sign Language Peoples as indigenous minorities: Implications for research and policy. Environment and Planning A, 39(12), 2899–2915.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Baynton, D. C. (1996). Forbidden Signs: American culture and the campaign against Sign Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. BBC. (2002). Couple “choose” to have a deaf baby: Should it be allowed? BBC talking point, Friday, 12 April, 2002, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/1916818.stm. Accessed August 10 2010.

  8. Bhaskar, R. (2002). From science to emancipation: Alienation and the actuality of enlightenment. Brighton: Harvester.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Blommaert, J. (2005). Situating language rights: English and Swahili in Tanzania revisited. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 9, 390–417.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bòrd na Gàidhlig. (2012). Funding schemes, http://www.gaidhlig.org.uk/bord/en/funding-opportunities. Accessed Feb 14 2012.

  11. Branson, J., & Miller, D. (2002). Damned for their difference: The cultural construction of Deaf people as disabled. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Breivik, J., Haualand, H., & Solvang, P. (2002). Rome? A temporary Deaf city! Deaflympics 2001. A Publication within the Anthropological Project. Transnational connections in deaf worlds. Norway: Bergen University.

  13. Brennan, M., & Brown, R. (1997). Equality before the law: Deaf people’s access to Justice. Coleford: Douglas Mclean.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Brennan, M., Colville, M. D., & Lawson, L. K. (1984). Words in hand: A structural analysis of the signs of British Sign Language. Carlisle: British Deaf Association.

    Google Scholar 

  15. British Deaf Association (BDA). (2011a). BDA Statement on Elmfield School, http://www.bda.org.uk/news/story/2011/01/26/bda-statement-elmfield-school. Accessed 11 April 2011.

  16. British Deaf Association (BDA). (2011b). Response by the British Deaf Association (BDA) to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI): Draft UK initial report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), mimeo, July 2011.

  17. Bruce, M. (2003). Protection of sign languages in the member states of the Council of Europe. Report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Doc 9738, 17/03/2003.

  18. Conrad, R. (1979). The deaf school child: Language and cognitive function. London: Harper and Row.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Council of Europe (COE). (1992). European charter for regional and minority languages, http://conventions.coe.int/treaty/en/Treaties/Html/148.htm. Accessed Sept 03 10.

  20. Council of Europe (COE). (1995). Framework convention for the protection of national minor- ities. Strasbourg, 1.II.1995, http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/Html/157.htm. Accessed Sept 03 10.

  21. Department for Education and Science (DES). (1978). Special educational needs, report of the enquiry into the education of handicapped children and young people. (Warnock report). London: HMSO.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Edwards, R. A. R. (2010). “Hearing aids are not Deaf”: A historical perspective on technology in the Deaf world’. In L. J. Davis (Ed.), The disability studies reader (3rd ed., pp. 403–416). Routledge: London.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Emery, S. D. (2011). Citizenship and the Deaf community. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Ishara Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). (2010). The United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities: What does it mean for you? http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/publications/uncrpdguide.pdf. Accessed Feb 07 2010.

  25. Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gertz, G. (2008). Dysconscious audism: A theoretical proposition. In H. D. L. Bauman (Ed.), Open your eyes: Deaf studies talking (pp. 219–234). Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Goffman, E. (1984). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. (First published, paperback 1963). London: Simon & Schuster, Touchstone.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Haualand, H. (2007). The two week village. In B. Ingstad & S. Whyte (Eds.), Disability in Local and global worlds (pp. 33–55). California: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Heffernan, C. (2011). Deaf pupils will bear the brunt of education cuts. In: The Guardian, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 May 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/10/deaf-pupils-education-cuts. Accessed Dec 10 2011.

  30. Hindley, P., & Kitson, N. (Eds.). (2000). Mental health and deafness. London: Whurr publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Jeffreys, D. (2011). Born to be Deaf, mail Online, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-108540/Born-deaf.html#comments. Accessed Augest 10 2011.

  32. Jokinen, M. (2005). Linguistic rights, Sign Language as a right in the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and in the legislation of UN member countries. Presentation at the CRPD negotiations, President, World Federation of the Deaf, Monday 31 January 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc5sideevents.htm. Accessed Augest 20 2011.

  33. Krausnecker, V. (2003). Has something changed? Sign languages in Europe: The case of minorised minority languages. Deaf Worlds, 19(2), 33–46.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Krausnecker, V. (2009). The protection and promotion of sign languages and the rights of their users in council of Europe member states: Needs analysis. Report, www.coe.int/t/e/social…/soc…/Report%20Sign%20languages%20final.doc. Accessed August 08 2011.

  35. Kyle, J. G. & Allsop, L. (1997). Sign on Europe. Report for EUD, European Union of the Deaf.

  36. Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf culture: In search of Deafhood. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Ladd, P., Batterbury, S. C. E., Alker, D., Gulliver, M., Turner, G. H., & Krausneker, V. (2003). An agenda for change: Principles and guidelines for policy making and research in Deaf-related areas. Deaf Worlds, 19(2), 66–77.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Lane, H. (1999). The mask of benevolence: Disabling the Deaf community. San Diego: DawnSignPress.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Lane, H. (2008). Do Deaf people have a disability? In H. D. L. Bauman (Ed.), Open your eyes: Deaf studies talking (pp. 277–292). Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Lane, H., Hoffmeister, R., & Bahan, B. (1996). A journey into the Deaf-world. San Diego: DawnSignPress.

    Google Scholar 

  41. May, S. (2003a). Misconceiving minority language rights: Implications for liberal political theory. In W. Kymlicka & A. Patten (Eds.), Language rights and political theory (pp. 123–152). Oxford: OUP.

    Google Scholar 

  42. May, S. (2003b). Rearticulating the case for minority language rights. Current Issues in Language Planning, 4(2), 95–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Mindess, A. (1999). Reading between the signs: Intercultural communication of Sign Language interpreters. London: Intercultural Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Mudgett-Decaro, P. (1998). On being both Hearing and Deaf: My bicultural-bilingual experience. In I. Parasnis (Ed.), Cultural and language diversity and the Deaf experience (pp. 272–288). Cambridge: CUP.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Nussbaum, M. (2003). Capabilities as fundamental entitlements: Sen and Social Justice. Feminist Economics, 9(2–3), 33–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Office for Disability Issues (ODI). (2011a). UN convention on the rights of disabled people: What ratification of the UN convention means for the UK government. http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/disabled-people-and-legislation/un-convention-on-the-rights-of-disabled-people.php. Accessed Feb 13 2011.

  47. Office for Disability Issues (ODI). (2011b), UK Initial Report On the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/docs/disabled-people-and-legislation/uk-initial-report.pdf. Accessed Dec 10 2011).

  48. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). (1989). Convention on the rights of the child, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm#art23. Accessed August 20 2011.

  49. Padden, C. (1980). The Deaf community and the culture of Deaf people. In C. Baker & R. Battison (Eds.), Sign Language and the Deaf community: essays in honor of William C. Stokoe (pp. 89–103). USA: National Association of the Deaf.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Padden, C., & Humphries, T. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a culture. London: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Parasnis, I. (Ed.). (1996). Cultural and language diversity and the Deaf experience. Cambridge: CUP.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACOE). (2012). An additional protocol to the European convention on human rights on national minorities. Doc. 12879, 23/02/2012. http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/Doc/XrefViewPDF.asp?FileID=13083&Language=EN. Accessed April 03 2012.

  53. Patten, A., & Kymlicka, W. (2003). Introduction, language rights and political theory: Context, issues, and approaches. In W. Kymlicka & A. Patten (Eds.), Language rights and political theory (pp. 1–51). Oxford: OUP.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Powers, S. (2003). Influences of student and family factors on academic outcomes of mainstream secondary school Deaf students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 8(1), 57–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Rawls, J. (1999). A theory of justice. (revised edition): Originally published 1972 with OUP. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Scotland Futures Forum (SFF). (2010). The future of British Sign Language in an inclusive Scotland, 15 November 2010. http://scotlandfutureforum.org/assets/library/files/application/BSL_Report.pdf. Accessed Feb 01 2011.

  57. Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2008). Human rights and language policy in education. In S. May & N. Hornberger (Eds.), Language policy and political issues in education 1, encyclopedia of language and education (2nd ed., pp. 107–119). New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2010). Language rights. In J. Jaspers, J. O. Östman, & J. Verschueren (Eds.), Society and language use. 7 handbook of pragmatics highlights (pp. 212–240). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Stokoe, W. C. (1960). Sign Language structure: An outline of the visual communication systems of the American deaf. In Studies in linguistics: Occasional papers (8). Buffalo: Dept. of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Buffalo.

  60. Sunday Telegraph. (2002). Kernewek re be grontys dewhelans, (Cornish has been granted a comeback), by Francis Elliot, November 17, 2002, 3.

  61. Terstriep, A. L. (1993). Ethnicity, social theory, and Deaf culture. In Deaf studies III: Bridging cultures in the 21st century. Conference proceedings, April 22–25 1993, 231–244. College for Continuing Education, Gallaudet University: Washington.

  62. Thornberry, P. (1997). Minority rights. In Academy of European Law (Ed.). Collected courses of the academy of European Law VI, (2) (pp. 307–390). The Netherlands, Kluwer Law International.

  63. United Nations (UN). (1966). International covenant on civil and political rights, New York, 16 December 1966.

  64. United Nations (UN). (2007). Convention and optional protocol signatures and ratifications, UN Enable, rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. http://www.un.org/disabilities/countries.asp?id=166. Accessed Feb 07 2010.

  65. United Nations (UN). (2008). Letter dated 11 January 2008 from the Chargé d’affairs a.i.of Spain to the United Nations addressed to the President of the General Assembly. available at http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=359. Accessed 11 April 2011.

  66. UN Enable (2006a). Daily summary of discussion at the seventh session, 31 January 2006. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc7sum31jan.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  67. UN Enable (2006b). Daily summary of discussion at the third session, 26 May 2004. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc3sum26may.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  68. UN Enable (2006c). Daily summary of discussion at the third session, 27 May 2004. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc3sum27may.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  69. UN Enable (2006d). Daily summary of discussion at the third session, 1 June 2004. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc3sum1june.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  70. UN Enable (2006e). Daily summary of discussion at the fourth session, 26 August 2004. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc4sum26aug.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  71. UN Enable (2006f). Daily summary of discussion at the fifth session, 31 January 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc5sum31jan.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  72. UN Enable (2006g). Daily summary of discussion at the fifth session, 1 February 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc5sum1feb.htm Accessed August 25 2011.

  73. UN Enable (2006h). Daily summary of discussion at the fifth session,3 February 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc5sum3feb.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  74. UN Enable (2006i). Daily summary of discussion at the sixth session, 03 August 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc6sum3aug.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  75. UN Enable (2006j). Daily summary of discussion at the sixth session, 04 August 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc6sum4aug.htm. Accessed 25/08/2011.

  76. UN Enable (2006k). Daily summary of discussion at the sixth session. 05 August 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc6sum5aug.htm Accessed August 25 2011.

  77. UN Enable (2006l). Daily summary of discussion at the sixth session. 11 August 2005, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc6sum11aug.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  78. UN Enable (2006m). Daily summary of discussion at the seventh session. 20 January 2006, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/ahc7sum20jan.htm. Accessed August 25 2011.

  79. UN Enable (2007a). Making it work: Civil society participation in the implementation of the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, Declaration of Madrid. 27 November 2007, http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=359. Accessed April 11 2011.

  80. UN Enable (2007b). Recommendations from the expert group to civil society, “making it work: Civil society participation in the implementation of the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities”, November 27 2007, http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=359. Accessed April 11 2011.

  81. Wheatley, M., & Pabsch, A. (2010). Sign language legislation in the European Union. Brussels: EUD.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Woodward, J. (1972). Implications for sociolinguistics research among the Deaf. Sign Language Studies, 1, 1–7.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Wrigley, O. (1996). The Politics of Deafness. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah C. E. Batterbury.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Batterbury, S.C.E. Language justice for Sign Language Peoples: the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Lang Policy 11, 253–272 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-012-9245-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Sign Language Peoples (SLPs)
  • Language justice
  • Legal recognition
  • Disability discourse
  • Sign language policy
  • UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)