Swiss Federal Council moves to legally recognise sign languages

Swiss Federal Council moves to legally recognise sign languages

Switzerland’s Federal Council is keen to legally recognise the three sign languages most commonly used in Switzerland, but has not agreed on how it is to be done. While the council aims to recognise the languages through amendments to the Disability Equality Act, factions within the government and members of the deaf community would prefer to enshrine the recognition of sign language in its own separate law. 

Commission voted to recognise Swiss sign language in April

In April, the National Council's Commission for Science, Education and Culture (WBK-N) voted to recognise and promote the three most used sign languages in Switzerland by creating a new law, with 17 in favour of the motion and only seven against. The WBK-N is also planning other reforms to make Swiss society more inclusive by legally regulating equal opportunities, for example in political participation and in the communication, education, healthcare and cultural industries.

The Federal Council, the executive brand of the government, agrees with the recommendations regarding the recognition of sign language in Switzerland, but has asked for a different approach. According to the Federal Council, the best method is to supplement the existing Disability Equality Act, in order to “ensure its coherence”. 

Promoting sign language is expensive, say the Swiss government

The Swiss government believes it is possible to support Swiss sign language through existing legislation. Members of the council concluded that the government should not to commit to promoting sign language separately in its own law, as it would require considerable human and financial resources "which do not exist and would have to be made available".

In the past, the Federal Council has been hesitant to recognise more official languages in Switzerland. In 2021, the council wrote that "recognition is not a mandatory prerequisite for further promoting and improving the social participation of hearing-impaired and deaf people." 

Naturally, the Swiss Federation of the Deaf disagrees. The Federation remains of the opinion that only a separate law to recognise sign language will enshrine the rights of deaf people across the country and truly represent the culture of deaf people in Switzerland.



Emily Proctor

Former Editor at IamExpat Media.

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