International Day of Sign Languages

September 23 is the International Day of Sign Languages. I have been signing since I was young. Not because my parents did the right thing and teach me but because I couldn’t communicate so a classmate taught me in school.

Oralism causes so much mental health issues, sign languages need to be recognized.

This day is a unique opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all Deaf and non speaking people. There are more than 70 million Deaf people world wide. More than 80% live in developing countries. Collectively there are over 300 different sign languages.

The different sign languages are recognized languages. They are structurally distinct from their spoken equivalent. Take ASL for example, the syntax of ASL and English are very different. I cannot speak and sign at the same time, it is too difficult and I just start signing and forget the spoken word.

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed September 23 to be the International Day of Sign Languages. In doing this, they acknowledge that early access to sign language and services in sign, including quality education, is essential to the growth and development of the disabled individual.

History of This day

The proposal for this day came from the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). This is a federation of 135 national associations of Deaf people. They represent over 70 million people’s rights from all over the world.

The resolution A/RES/72/161 was sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations, co sponsored by 97 United Nations Member states and adopted by consensus on December 19, 2017.

The day that was chosen is significant because it commemorates the date that the WFD was established ini 1951. It marks the birth or an advocacy organization. This organization’s main goals is to preserve sign languages and Deaf culture as requirements for the realization of the human rights of Deaf people.

It was first celebrated in 2018 as part of the International Week of the Deaf.

How ASL Saved Me From Being Lost in Montreal

I was a college student, a Freshman at Plattsburgh State College. I made friends pretty easily. Instead of people being afraid of me or avoiding me because I was different, I got along with people really well.

Anyway, the drinking age in Quebec is 18 and we were all 18. I don’t drink and two friends asked me if I would be a designated driver. I told them I only have a learner permit. They said the classing phrase,”It’ll be fine.”

I went because I wanted them to come back alive.

Plattsburgh is in upstate New York, about an hour south of Montreal. We were 20 minutes from the Canadian border. This was before 9/11 when we were able to go over the border with just our student ID.

Driving up was uneventful. They found a bar and one told me “It was ladies night.” I don’t drink. I ordered one to give to a friend because it was free.

When the guys were done drinking, we went back to the car. One of them who knows Montreal was so drunk, he couldn’t speak clearly. I am hard of hearing so I had a hard time. He didn’t know sign either. I can understand drunk sign better than drunk speech.

I was driving around Montreal, trying to get home. I understood enough French to read the road signs. I kept driving in circles.

As I was driving slowly, I saw a couple conversing in ASL. I pulled over. One of the guys asked why I was pulled over. I said I was going to ask these people for directions. “They are just waving their hands in the air.”

“Just stay here and don’t move.”

Montreal is a French speaking city but there are English speakers too. I just happened to be lucky. Also, ASL comes from French Sign Language. If they were using French Sign Language, we could have gotten the idea of what the other was saying.

I explained to the couple that we are students at Plattsburgh State and I am trying to get home. We had a laugh at their expense and then they directed me out of Montreal to get to the highway that lead to the Adirondack Northway.

Going through the boarder crossing was easy. I just handed them my student ID. She asked “Took advantage of the drinking age in Canada?”

I answered”Everyone but me. We had to make sure they got home safe.” The border patrol officer cracked a smile and let us through.


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