UN Declares September 23 "International Day of Sign Languages," Interview w/ WFD President Colin Allen

December 22, 2017


Recently the UN United Nations has officially approved a resolution to declare September 23 as the International Day of Sign Languages. 


The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the UN Mission of Antigua and Barbuda worked together to rally support from other UN member states and was sponsored by 97 member states. 


I reached out to WFD President Colin Allen for an interview to discuss more on this and why it is important. 



Colin: My name is Colin Allen. I am the president of the World Federation of the Deaf. 


Alex: Why did you feel it was important to propose September 23 as the International Day of Sign Languages? Why is this important? 


Colin: In the past, various WFD member countries have asked WFD to push for the establishment of an international day of sign languages. So, why is this important? To give you an example, the UN has various days to recognize groups, such as the International Day of  Women, the International Day of Children, and others. This shows that the UN General Assembly has reached an consensus that the specific group is important and worthy of respect with a day in their recognition. 


Around two years ago we felt it was a good time to start reaching out to various countries’ governments on the idea of starting this International Day of Sign Languages — and received “verbal support” from them. So the WFD has started the groundwork during the past two years to reach out to others. 


Now, why September 23 as the International Day of Sign Languages? WFD was founded in September 23, 1951. This is to honor the founding or the “birthday” of the WFD. The WFD works to promote the human rights and sign language rights of all Deaf people, so this is a perfect way to celebrate this day. 


Yes, we were so thrilled when the UN General Assembly ratified this resolution to have a International Day of Sign Languages. 


Alex: The WFD proposed this resolution in partnership with the UN Mission of Antigua and Barbuda. How did you have this working relationship with that country, and why did they agree to support this idea? 


Colin: At the UN headquarters in New York, there are 193 member states that come together. There are various missions for different UN member states that represent their governments. The WFD has met with various missions to work on how to propose this resolution. When we met with the Mission of Antigua and Barbuda — their ambassador is a Blind person — so he was very motivated to support this and lead the discussions with other missions in New York. 


This really helped the WFD to move fast. The process was indeed fast, we started this in July or August, and ended up with 97 countries becoming co-sponsors, which is over 50% of all the UN member states. So the WFD is really happy with Antigua and Barbuda for their support. 


Alex: Now that this day is recognized, in what ways will the WFD look on other countries to recognize this day, September 23 — how should other countries respect this day? 


Colin: There are many different ways to use this opportunity to advocate for different countries’ sign languages. For example, Ireland recently recognized Irish Sign Language in their parliament. The same happened in other countries. But there is just over 40 countries that have official recognition of their sign languages by their governments, which is a small number, so it is a good tool to use this day for advocacy for the world’s sign languages. Now that the UN has adopted this resolution, it will be a good way for other countries to tell their governments to recognize theirs. 


Secondly, we know that our sign languages are beautiful. We can use this day and week to show the world, your country, your hometown on how they can support sign language in various ways — in the arts, media, poetry — to educate others on sign language. Those are just two of a multitude of different ways. 


The WFD is thinking of what topic we should do for next year (2018). We are hoping for a global Deaf effort to really show the world. I want it to be as if when I’m flying around the world, I’ll see an outpouring of sign languages. Imagine that! 


Alex: Do you want to add anything? 


Colin: Yes, thank you all for watching this. We on the WFD Board and staff are overjoyed, just as we know you are, that The UN has recognized the International Day of Sign Languages. We at WFD want you to become members of WFD, so you as an individual can support our work for you. We can exchange responsibilities — we will work for you and you can support us by being a member.  With your support, the WFD can do more work to advance Deaf people around the world. 



Alex: Thank you for your time, Colin. Congratulations to the WFD and the Mission of Antigua and Barbuda for being successful, and it benefits all of us. So September 23 and that week is a wonderful opportunity for international Deaf communities to celebrate and advocate for our human rights. 


If you want more information on the resolution in both English and International Sign — and information on how to be a WFD member, please see the links in the transcript. 


WFD Press Release (General) from WFD website - https://wfdeaf.org/news/un-23-sept-as-international-day-of-sign-languages/


WFD Press Release in International Sign - https://vimeo.com/245424725


Resolution in International Sign - https://vimeo.com/245920575


Resolution available in UN's six official languages [written] - http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=A/C.3/72/L.36/Rev.1


How to become an individual WFD Member - https://wfdeaf.org/get-involved/become-a-member/membership/


Additional information re AB Mission in NYC: http://www.antiguabarbudaoffice.org/

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