The WFD and Human Rights

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The World Federation for the Deaf (WFD) is the one of the most important organizations supporting Deaf people around the world. It was founded in 1951 and has since taken a major role in supporting the lives of Deaf people and their families. The WFD also helps Deaf youth through camps and outreach initiatives. The mission of the WFD is a large one. They are attempting to preserve the languages and cultures of Deaf communities, improve access to education through funding and health care by making sign language more prevalent, and prevent persecution of Deaf people.

The World Federation for the Deaf was founded in 1951 in Rome, Italy with just 25 member nations. In the past sixty years, the organization has relocated to Helsinki, Finland, and grown to include 132 member nations, representing all of the continents (WFD). One of the reasons why the World Federation for the Deaf is so important is that they have consultative status with the United Nations. Working with the UN allows the WFD to assist Deaf people in developing countries that may not have access to education or resources. The WFD estimates that, of the 70 million Deaf people in the world, more than 80% live in developing countries (WFD). Poverty and political strife, coupled with a disability, could keep these people from living a healthy life. The WFD consults with the UN to make sure that the needs of Deaf people are part of the UN’s overall strategy.

Deaf people consider themselves to have an individual culture. In this essay, “Deaf” is capitalized because many Deaf people argue that Deafness is not simply a physical attribute: it is a community of individuals who share common beliefs, history, and perceptions about the world, despite whatever other cultural boundaries may come between them. Many people think that sign language is the same all over the world. In fact, sign language developed alongside spoken language, and varies by country and region. There is also an International Sign Language that allows Deaf people to communicate in a single language. The WFD encourages this diversity. Each sign language is unique and should be preserved.

Deaf people are in a special cultural position. They are members of their national culture, a subculture of persons with disabilities, and an international culture united by their common interests. The United Nations recognizes Deaf Culture in its Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities when they affirm that “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” (qtd. in WFD). One interesting example of the WFD’s commitment to Deaf culture is their website. The WFD website has a number videos with absolutely no sound. All of the videos are done in sign language, and there are no voice-overs. This serves two purposes. First, Deaf people who visit the website see a role model using sign language. Second, hearing people who visit the website are given a taste of what it is like to see a person communicating and not be able to understand. The inclusion of sign-language-only videos on the website subtly furthers the message of the WFD.

In some countries sign language is considered an official language or included in laws on education or students with disabilities. In other countries, sign language is not considered a language, which keeps Deaf people from getting the educational assistance they need. The WFD feels that “having access to a signed language is central to any Deaf person, child or adult for their cognitive, social, emotional and linguistic growth” (WFD). WFD’s mission includes reaching out to people in countries where sign language is not recognized and providing them resources to help them make the most of state-run services, like education. It is critically important that Deaf children have the opportunity to learn alongside hearing children, especially in areas where literacy rates are low. The WFD works with teachers all over the world, encouraging them to make accommodations for students that are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Another area in which the WFD works to improve access is in health. A significant portion of the Deaf world lives in developing countries. Illnesses or conditions that could be cured in developed countries often go untreated, resulting in hearing loss. The WFD also assists people who are already Deaf and may require a sign language translator in order to understand their treatment plan for other illnesses. The WFD works with doctors to communicate with Deaf people, recognize conditions that could lead to Deafness, and offer treatments that could improve hearing. One new treatment for Deafness that the WFD does not support is cochlear implants for children. Proponents of the procedure argue that cochlear implants can allow Deaf children to lead a normal life. The WFD, along with other organizations of Deaf people, has strongly criticized the practice because “the surgery is of unproven value for the main significant benefit sought, language acquisition, whereas the psychological, social, and linguistic risks have not been assessed” (Lane). Critics of cochlear implants worry that the procedure will rob Deaf children of their identity and irreparably damage Deaf culture.

One of the most significant issues that Deaf people face worldwide is the stigma associated with Deafness. Because they cannot hear, and in some cases cannot speak or speak poorly, it is often assumed that Deaf people are not smart or capable. Deaf rights advocates argue that “the inability to receive audible information is not and should not be the sole and exclusive defining characteristic of any individual or group thereof, and that a far more effective and inclusive approach is to view a Deaf person for what they can do rather than what they cannot (“Understanding Deaf Culture”). The WFD attempts to reverse this persecution through legal and governmental means. Through the UN, the WFD “represents the Deaf community within the UN system and supports Deaf associations and authorities throughout the world by providing consultancy, expertise and advice” (WFD). Part of representing Deaf culture is simply letting allowing Deaf people to meet each other. One of the ways that the WFD does this is through their annual camps for children. This year’s camp is in Washington D.C., but previous camps have been held all over the world (WFDYS). The WFD camps are an integral part of their mission because it allows Deaf children to feel as if they are part of an international community.

The World Federation for the Deaf is one of the finest organizations working to support Deaf culture. Because their scope is international, they focus on big-picture issues rather than smaller community issue. Other organizations may spend their time trying to get major broadcasters to improve their closed captioning or litigating for fair employment practices toward Deaf people. The WFD is working to ensure that Deaf people all over the world have basic human rights, as simple as the right to go to school or use the language that is most comfortable for them. This is an extremely important mission. Through their position with the UN, the WFD has unprecedented access to developing nations all over the world. They advise the UN on general strategies to assist the Deaf and can also make recommendations specific to certain cultures. The WFD makes sure that Deaf people are represented in all major UN decisions, and helps to ensure that UN Conventions take the needs of Deaf people into account. The WFD is an excellent organization with a strong history of advocacy and support for Deaf people all over the world.

The World Federation for the Deaf has had a significant impact on the lives of people all over the world. They advocate for the preservation of Deaf culture, the spread of sign language, improved access to education and health, and the prevention of discrimination against Deaf people all over the world. Their mission has been very successful.

References

Lane, H., & Bahan, B. (n.d.). Result filters. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9781982

Understanding Deaf Culture. (n.d.). Understanding deaf culture. Retrieved from http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/mcdhh/understanding-deaf-culture.html

WFD | World Federation of the Deaf. (n.d.). WFD World Federation of the Deaf. Retrieved from http://wfdeaf.org/

World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS). (n.d.). World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS). Retrieved from http://www.wfdys.org/#/pastCamps/