of sign languages in the member states of the Council of Europe
The Parliamentary Assembly recalls its Recommendation
1492 (2001) on the rights of national minorities, and particularly
paragraph 12.xiii concerning sign languages.
The Assembly takes note of the reply by the Committee of Ministers to this
recommendation, contained in Document 9492. It regrets that the Committee of
Ministers did not make a pronouncement on the opinions delivered by the
Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority
Languages (ETS No. 148) and by the Committee on the Rehabilitation and
Integration of People with Disabilities (Partial Agreement). This reply
warrants, if any justification were needed, the Parliamentary Assemblys
concern that the rights of sign language users should be incorporated into a
specific legal instrument, or into an additional protocol to the charter,
without prejudging the position that may be adopted by the organisations
representing deaf people.
The Assembly recognises sign languages as the expression of Europes
cultural wealth. They are a feature of Europes linguistic and cultural
The Assembly also recognises sign languages as a complete and natural means
of communication for deaf people.
The Assembly takes the view that official recognition of these languages
will help deaf people to become integrated into society and gain access to
justice, education and employment.
The Assembly acknowledges the importance of a detailed study of
requirements, necessarily preceding the framing of any policy on sign
languages. It stresses the need to involve users of these languages in the
The Assembly observes that a number of member states have introduced
programmes in support of sign languages. Although all experience a shortage
of sign language interpreters, this demonstrates the strength of demand and
the positive and inclusive social benefits such services provide.
The Assembly takes the view that official recognition of sign languages will
facilitate the training, recruitment and retention of more interpreters.
For the above reasons, and in the knowledge that only action at European
level will afford a solution to this problem, the Assembly recommends that
the Committee of Ministers devise a specific legal instrument on the rights
of sign language users, and accordingly:
instruct the relevant bodies of the Council of Europe to undertake a
preparatory study in consultation with national experts and
representatives of the deaf community in order to clarify outstanding
issues in regard to the protection of the use of sign languages;
define clear goals to be achieved, exact deadlines to be met, and
resources and methods to be used, founded on a full study of requirements
with the mandatory participation of associations representing the users of
consider drafting an additional protocol to the European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages incorporating sign languages into the
charter, among the non-territorial minority languages.
The Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers encourage
to give the sign languages used in their territory formal recognition;
to train sign language interpreters and sign language tutors;
to give education in sign languages to deaf people;
to train teachers, in preparation for working with deaf and
hearing-impaired children, in sign languages;
to broadcast television programmes in sign languages, and make sign
language subtitling of programmes transmitted in spoken language a general
to inform deaf and hearing-impaired people about the use of sign
to utilise the new technologies and make them available to deaf people;
to include sign languages as a valid academic qualification in mainstream
secondary schools with equal status to other taught languages;
to grant deaf people the right to choose freely between oral and bilingual
to subsidise the publication of instructive literature in sign languages.
Assembly debate on 1 April 2003 (11th Sitting) (see Doc. 9738,
report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, rapporteur: Mr
Bruce; and Doc. 9765,
opinion of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, rapporteur:
Text adopted by the Assembly
1April 2003 (11th Sitting).