The World Federation of the Deaf estimates that there are 72 million deaf people in the world of whom 80% live in developing countries. There are about 300 different sign languages. In addition, International Sign Language is used by the deaf outside geographic boundaries. It is a pidgin of the natural sign language that is not complex but has a limited lexicon. Currently, only 41 countries around the world have recognized sign language as an official language.
Movement for Official Recognition
Human right groups recognize and advocate the use of the sign language in equal status to spoken language and obligate countries to facilitate the use of the language to promote the linguistic identity of the deaf.
The United Nations proclaimed September 23 the International Day of Sign Language. The world body acknowledges that the knowledge of sign language is vital to the development and growth of the deaf community.
Of the 72 million deaf people in the world, only 2% have access to formal education, while less than 1% are in formal employment. The biggest challenge to the deaf community is stigmatization as people consider the disability a hindrance to one's ability to engage the duties and activities performed by ordinary people.
Countries That Recognize Sign Language as an Official Language
Of the 41 countries recognize sign language as an official language, 26 are in Europe. The European Parliament approved the resolution requiring all member states to adopt sign language in an official capacity on June 17, 1988. The parliament issued another declaration with similar resolutions in 1998.
Of the remaining countries, six are in South America, four are in Africa (Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe), two are in Oceania (Papua New Guinea and New Zealand), two are in Asia (South Korea and Japan), while Mexico is the only North American state. Sign language was approved to become South Africa's 12th official language.
Countries With Partial Recognition
Several other countries recognize the sign language but not in an official capacity.
The Canadian provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba recognize American Sign Language as a minority language while Section Fourteen of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants a deaf person the right to an interpreter.
Australia recognizes the Australian Sign Language as a community language, although it does not ensure the provision of services in the sign language.
Thailand recognizes the Thai Sign Language as "the national language of deaf people in Thailand." The country's Ministry of Education recognizes the same language as their first language of the deaf people in school.
The United States does not identify any language whether signed or spoken as the official language, but some states recognize American Sign Language as a foreign language while others recognize the sign language as a language of instruction in academic institutions. Some universities in the country accept the American Sign Language credit to fulfill the requirement of a foreign language.