What is it about?

Sign languages are an important part of Europe’s multilingual diversity. Based on gesture, they are as rich as spoken languages in terms of grammar, structure, syntax, and lexicon. Broadly speaking, each spoken language in the European Union (EU) has a counterpart sign language.

The lack of reliable figures makes it hard to know exactly how many people in the EU use a sign language.

An estimated 1 person in 1,000 uses a national sign language as their first language - i.e. about 500,000 people EU-wide. Others may use sign language as a second or third language, for example the family and friends of deaf and hearing-impaired people.

Why is it needed?

To ensure the inclusion of deaf people in European society, the European Commission aims to make sure that they can:

  • use sign language as an official means of communication in their own country
  • access education
  • access employment

What has been done so far?

To enable deaf people to work and learn in their preferred language, the Commission, together with the European Parliament, promotes sign languages and supports action to give them official status.

Initiatives include:

  • Dicta-Sign, a three-year EU-funded research project to make online communication more accessible to deaf users of sign language,
  • SignSpeak, an innovative initiative to improve communication between the signer and hearing communities through vision-based sign-language interpretation technology.

What are the next steps?

The Commission will continue to support action to promote the inclusion of the hearing-impaired and signers in society, by working together with relevant groups and organisations and through its Erasmus+ programme.