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Sign languages

What is it?

Sign languages are an important part of Europe’s multilingual diversity. Based on gestures rather than sound, they are as rich as spoken languages in grammatical structures, syntaxes and lexicons. Broadly speaking, each spoken language in the European Union (EU) has a counterpart sign language.

Because there are no reliable statistics available, it is difficult to know exactly how many people in the EU use a sign language.

Estimates suggest that 1 person in 1,000 uses a national sign language as their first language, which is equivalent to around 500,000 people across the EU. As well as deaf people, these speakers include the hearing impaired, friends and family. Others may use sign language as a second or third language.

Why is it needed?

In order to ensure the inclusion of deaf people in European society, the European Commission aims to ensure that the deaf are able to officially communicate through sign language in their own Member State, as well as participate in education and employment.

What has been done so far?

In order to ensure that deaf people are able to work and learn in their preferred language, the European Commission, in concert with the European Parliament, is taking steps to promote sign language and take measures to give sign language an official status.

Initiatives taken to date include:

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

The European Commission will continue to support initiatives for the inclusion of the deaf and signers in society, both through activities and dialogue through civil society initiatives such as the European Union for the Deaf.