September 23rd

International Day of Sign Languages -

Updated on by

The International Day of Sign Languages, observed on September 23rd, is a unique annual event that celebrates one of the most crucial communication tools for deaf and hard of hearing individuals—sign languages. Recognized globally, this day aims to raise awareness about the importance of sign language in the full realization of the human rights of people who are deaf.

On this day, governments, organizations, and communities come together to host events, campaigns, and programs to educate the public about sign languages, advocate for the rights of sign language users, and celebrate the rich culture and contributions of the deaf community. Through such initiatives, the day contributes to the promotion of equal opportunities for deaf individuals and the betterment of their quality of life on a global scale.

History of International Day of Sign Languages

The inception of the International Day of Sign Languages came about in 2018. It was a strategic move to carve out a dedicated time within the International Week of the Deaf—a week-long observance that has been in existence since 1958. The idea was to draw special attention to sign languages and their critical role in the development and well-being of deaf people.

This date is not arbitrarily chosen; it holds historical significance as it corresponds with the founding of the World Federation of the Deaf in 1951. The federation has been instrumental in bringing issues pertinent to the deaf community to the global stage, advocating for the acknowledgment and acceptance of sign language in every facet of society.

The notion of setting aside a specific day to focus on sign languages arose during the World Federation of the Deaf’s assembly in Turkey back in the summer of 2015. Two years later, this idea received global recognition and support from the United Nations General Assembly, which solidified its importance through a formal resolution in December 2017.

In its inaugural year, the International Day of Sign Languages coincided with the celebration of the “International Year of Indigenous Languages,” as identified by the UN General Assembly. This spotlight on indigenous languages aimed to raise awareness about the urgent need to preserve, encourage, and revive endangered languages worldwide.

Recognizing the International Day of Sign Languages is a critical milestone that aligns with Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This article emphasizes the importance of sign language as being on par with spoken languages. It also underscores the importance of affording deaf individuals the opportunity to learn sign language, thereby promoting their cultural and linguistic identity.

International Day of Sign Languages Timeline

Early Historical Mention

Cratylus, a dialogue by Plato, indicates that deaf people communicated using hand signals.

Juan Pablo de Bonet

Juan Pablo de Bonet wrote the first surviving book on sign language, in an effort to help deaf individuals communicate.

Abbé Charles Michel de l’Épée

French educator Abbé de l’Épée founded the first free public school for the deaf, using a form of sign language.

World Federation of the Deaf

The World Federation of the Deaf was founded in Rome in 1951.

Recognition of ASL

William Stokoe, a linguist, publishes a landmark study that recognizes American Sign Language (ASL) as a genuine language.

Official Languages Act Amendment

New Zealand amends its Official Languages Act, recognizing New Zealand Sign Language as an official language of the country.

International Day of Sign Languages

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) proposed the creation of an International Day of Sign Languages as part of the International Week of the Deaf.

Ideas to Celebrate International Day of Sign Languages

1 faq icon

Sign Language Workshop

Organize a workshop that invites members of the deaf community to teach basic sign language phrases and etiquette. This can be a hands-on learning experience for participants to communicate using signs, which fosters better understanding and appreciation of the language.

2 faq icon

Sign Language Storytelling Hour

Arrange a storytelling session where deaf storytellers share stories in sign language, either through livestream or in person, to show the expressive power of sign language and its effectiveness in narrative.

3 faq icon

Deaf Culture Movie Night

Screen films or documentaries about the deaf community and sign language, followed by a discussion led by a panel of deaf individuals or sign language experts to educate the audience on various aspects of sign language and deaf culture.

4 faq icon

Educational Exhibition

Set up an exhibition with informative booths, posters and interactive displays that educate visitors about the history of sign languages, different sign languages used worldwide, and the achievements of notable deaf individuals.

5 faq icon

Social Media Sign Language Campaign

Launch a social media campaign that encourages people to post videos of themselves using sign language, sharing what they've learned, or stories about how sign language has impacted their lives, using a specific hashtag to track participation.

6 faq icon

Partner with Local Businesses

Collaborate with local businesses to have sign language interpreters available for the day, making businesses more accessible and raising awareness about inclusion in the workplace.

8 Interesting Facts About Sign Languages


Not Universal

Contrary to popular belief, sign languages are not universal. Each country typically has its own sign language, and some countries have multiple sign languages. American Sign Language (ASL) is different from British Sign Language (BSL), which is also different from Australian Sign Language (Auslan).


Facial Expressions are Crucial

Facial expressions play a significant role in sign language. They can change the tone of a sentence or even the meaning of a sign, much like how vocal intonations work in spoken languages.


Sign Languages Have Accents

Just as spoken languages have accents, sign languages can also have regional variants or 'accents,' where the same signs might be performed slightly differently or with regional signs that are unique to specific areas.


International Sign

While not a 'universal language,' International Sign (IS) is a pidgin form of sign language that is used at international meetings like the Deaflympics to aid in communication between signers of different native languages.


Recognized as Official Languages

Many countries recognize their sign languages as official languages, giving them the same status as spoken languages. This recognition is important for the advocacy of the rights of Deaf communities.


Rich Storytelling Tradition

Sign languages have a rich tradition of storytelling and poetry, where the visual-spatial nature of the language is used to create vivid and imaginative narratives without the use of spoken words.


Earlier Acquisition of Concepts

Deaf children who are exposed to sign language from birth often acquire certain concepts and grammatical structures earlier than hearing children, due to the visual-spatial modality of sign languages.


Scientific Benefit

Research on sign languages has significantly contributed to our understanding of the brain and language. It has shown that language is not dependent on the ability to hear and that the brain can process linguistic information through visual means.

International Day of Sign Languages FAQs

Next International Day of Sign Languages Dates

Year Date Day
2023 September 23rd Saturday
2024 September 23rd Monday
2025 September 23rd Tuesday
2026 September 23rd Wednesday
2027 September 23rd Thursday
What is the pattern? Every September 23rd

International Day of Sign Languages Word Search

  • Sign
  • Languages
  • Inclusion
  • Gestures
  • Expression
  • Nonverbal