Our Movement for Promoting the Establishment
of a Sign Language Law in Japan
The Circumstances Around Deaf People in Japan
For over 70 years, the Japanese Federation of the Deaf has, has fought to realize an environment where sign language communication and information access are guaranteed. After the establishment of the country’s first school for the deaf in Kyoto in 1878 (Meiji 11), the number of schools increased to over a hundred across the course of the Taisho (1912 – 1926) and Showa periods (1926 – 1989). The alumni associations of these schools became the foundation for the establishment of groups and national organizations for the deaf, which would become the driving force for bringing the issue of social recognition of sign language to the government.
However, that’s not to say it’s been a smooth road from the time when deaf persons would be scorned with derogatory terms like oshi and tsumbo to now, when the establishment of a law surrounding sign language is now being considered. To begin with, after 1920 (Taisho 9), it became a common misunderstanding in deaf schools that sign language would impede Japanese language acquisition, so many of these schools purposely eradicated sign language from practice. Even so, the children, students, and graduates and deaf schools continued to use sign language for communication. The fact that sign language continued to be used and develop even throughout a period of intense suppression shows the innate human need for language acquisition. In spite of this, over a long period of time, sign language acquisition continued to be put off by deaf education, and deaf people felt a sense of inferiority for using it.
The 5 Rights Created through a Domestic Research Survey by the Project to Push the Creation of a Sign Language Law
The Japanese Federation of the Deaf (JFD) received assistance from the Nippon Foundation in 2010 and started the project to push to creation of a sign language law, where they ran domestic and international surveys. In the international survey, they looked at countries and regions which had established sign language laws, and the results are summarized in “The Status of Legal Recognition of Sign Language in Countries Around the World”. In contrast, the domestic survey, which formed the foundation of the “five sign language rights” covered in this section, was run with the intention to make clear what deaf people’s experiences have been when it comes to discrimination against sign language.
Extracting data from surveys conducted in the past, individual hearings of deaf persons, back catalogues and related materials from the JFD’s newspaper bulletin Japanese News for the Deaf, and other documents and material related to deaf and hearing impaired persons, we counted 1,214 cases of discrimination against sign language, and separated them into the following five different categories as a result of our analysis.
Japanese Federation of the Deaf (JFD) would like to announce with great pleasure that the local council of Haga-machi in Tochigi prefecture adopted the arguments in writing (as a kind of petition) requesting Government of Japan to enact “Japanese Sign Language Act” today.
Revised Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities Enacted on July 29, Promulgated on August 5
The bill of revision of the Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities, which states “language (including sign language)”, was approved unanimously in the House of Councilors on July 29, 2011. It was promulgated and came into effect on August 5.
The revised Act includes a statement of “language (including sign language)” in the Article 3(iii) and became the first law in Japan that has recognized sign language as a language.
Article 3 (Cohesion in Local Communities, etc.)
(iii) Every person with disabilities, wherever possible, shall be ensured opportunities to choose his or her language (including sign language) and/or other means of communication, and the expansion of opportunities to choose his or her means of acquiring or utilizing information shall be promoted.
On behalf of Japanese Federation of the Deaf, we would like to announce that we received the following statement by Mr. Markku Jokinen, the President of the World Federation of the Deaf, which acknowledges support to our activities to develop two following laws: Access to Information & Communication Act (Tentative) and Sign Language Act (Tentative).
Along with the President’s statement, we would like to go forward with strong will and positive intent to work on development of the two laws to promote human rights of deaf persons.
The United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on a “Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities” is now in the process of discussing the contents of the convention. The Fourth Session of the Ad Hoc Committee, held from August 23 to September 3, was attended, not only by the Japanese government delegation, but also by a delegation of Japanese disability-related NGOs.
As the common desire of all the Deaf persons or persons with profound hearing disabilities throughout the world, the Deaf community is now focusing on the need to define sign languages as full-fledged languages.
It is true that sign language is becoming better understood by society at large, and people no longer look at us with curiosity when we are signing in public. Sign language often appears even in TV dramas. Most people, however, mistakenly believe that sign language is an alternative form of expressing spoken languages. Sign languages are still discriminated in that they are not recognized to be languages, equal to spoken languages.