The right of the Deaf to their language



(In last week’s article, the cultural term “Deaf” was inadvertently edited as “deaf”. The two terms are distinct: “Deaf” refers to the progressive view of the community as a cultural linguistic minority, while “deaf” is solely a medical view of hearing impairment.)

It is a fact that our entire educational system is beset by tremendous problems. However, the concerns raised here must focus on language and literacy issues and not be sidetracked by these difficult circumstances. The complexities facing education of Deaf students in the Philippines are not unique. The World Federation of the Deaf, an international NGO of 130 national associations of Deaf people, founded in 1951, has consultative status with the United Nations and is represented in international groups and professional organizations, providing expert advice on Deaf issues. It calls upon national and regional/provincial governments to:

Legalize sign language and quality education for Deaf people of all ages.

Provide the resources necessary for the development of effective programs for teaching sign language and Deaf Studies to involved people, such as families and others.

Provide support for programs for Deaf people to receive training and become employed as teachers, educational professionals and members of educational teams.

Establish high standards for quality education programs and outcomes, from early childhood to professional education, for all Deaf people equal to that for all people.

Ensure that Deaf learners who may be placed in mainstream educational settings have access to the services of educated, trained and qualified sign language interpreters, other needed support services, Deaf peers and role models, and full participation in both the educative and co-curricular processes.

The overall goal is for Deaf students to become multilingual  in their local communities and a globalized world. There is a need to set the right to full linguistic understanding and expression by Deaf children as the foremost priority in the learning process. This goal cannot be subverted even by objectives for literacy.

Several other recommendations are enumerated below:

1. Include a subject on Filipino Sign Language (FSL), with appropriate testing mechanisms, as early as pre-school, continuing throughout the primary level. Develop and adopt an FSL Proficiency Test for Deaf students.

2. Develop fully accessible educational materials  for Deaf and Deaf-blind children, according to the principles of Universal Design.

3. Employ immediate Affirmative Action measures to bring Deaf FSL signer teachers/role models into the classroom. Plan and implement pre-  and continuing in-service training on FSL at the division and regional levels. Formulate and conduct an FSL Proficiency Test to assess fluency for use in the criteria for hiring, promotion and tenure of teachers and interpreters. For classroom interpreters, additional assessments for sign and voice interpretation ability should be created.

4. Review, revise and update the 1997 Handbook on Special Education so that it: (a) uses correct, research-based  definitions of critical terms such as sign language, sign system, communication, Total Communication,  Universal Design and others; (b) definitively explains and prescribes the current progressive definition of the bilingual approach among Deaf children as: using sign language (i.e., Filipino Sign Language) as the language/medium of instruction, or L1, in all subjects for Deaf children with a parallel strong emphasis on teaching reading and writing of the language, or L2 / L3;  (c) all changes to be instituted should be charged to mandated appropriations for PWDs  in all national government agencies according to the General Appropriations Act and Presidential Proclamation 240.  In addition, educational assistance as specified in RA 9442 (Amendments to the Magna Carta for PWDs) should be provided for Deaf and Deaf-blind students. Also a related/supplementary policy should be issued, anchored on DepEd Order 74-2009, consistent with international commitments, and with the appropriate modifications for visual languages.

5. Continuing activities on Deaf history, visual literature and culture should be promoted in partnership with national and local Deaf peoples’ organizations for teachers, interpreters, school staff, as well as LGUs, parents, caregivers, and the public at large to raise awareness about FSL and the culture and community of Deaf people.

6. The Professional Regulatory Commission and the Civil Service Commission must formulate specific measures to accelerate and achieve de facto equality of Deaf takers of the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET). Collaborative research specially with state universities and colleges (as mandated in RA 7277—Magna Carta for PWDs) should be promoted.

7.  Finally, crafting of legislation for the legal recognition of FSL, including in education, is essential.

Dr. Liza Martinez is one of only two hearing sign linguists trained at the renowned Deaf institution, Gallaudet University (Washington, D.C.). She is the founder and director of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center. Send comments to pdrc@

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  • Anonymous

    Here we are again, Filipino Sign Language.

    Can you not make your own Native/Mother Tongue Sign Language? Bisayans learning a Filipino Sign Language will need to translate their language to Tagalog in mind, then translate that into sign language. Stop promoting tagalog. Start using your own native dialect, sign language or not. For communicating to other ethnic groups, use English Sign Language.

  • jojomccid

    The “Filipino” word in Filipino Sign Language refers to the people living or born in the Philippines and NOT the Filipino which is the language used by Filipinos. This is also the case for American Sign Language (ASL). American here refers to people living in USA. Please do not confuse the two terms. The Deaf people would name their language as English Sign Language and not American Sign Language if we base it on your comment.

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