International Rights of Persons with Disabilities


That’s right. I included “disability” in the title of this post. There remains an understandably uneasiness in legal advocacy for Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks, and the disability rights community. On the one hand, the provisions that require sign language interpreters in public schools, universities, and some workplace functions fall under disability rights law. Yet the term disability understandably provokes ire in a community that has a rich linguistic and political tradition. I would argue that despite these important tensions, we should not over-react to the term disability and thereby overlook opportunities for partnership and advocacy.

I heard through the grapevine that the  U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities might be up for ratification in the U.S. Senate next Congressional term. If you recall, in 2012 the Senate voted against ratification of the CRPD based largely, it seems, on genuine misinformation, flagrant ignorance, and the pompous skepticism of anything that comes from the United Nations. To be clear, a ratification of CRPD would be largely symbolic and is not the same as legislation. But that is hardly reason to ignore this issue. (All law is fundamentally “symbolic” anyway, since law, whether taken to be social code or supernatural right, is a relationship between physical reality and metaphysical value. You cannot, for instance, find law lying about in the woods or on a sidewalk.)

It is important that interpreters know what is in the CRPD so they can be aware of global trends in rights that effect Deaf persons and interpreters, and so that we can advocate appropriately for justice at all scales. Here are the three provisions that most directly relate to interpreters and signing language peoples.

  • [Article 9 “Accessibility”, 2 e] “States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to … provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public”.
  • [Article 24 “Education”, 3 b] “States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including … facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community.”
  • [Article 30 “Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport”, 4] “Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.”
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