On 12 March, the Finnish Parliament have voted the “Sign Language Act”.
Our EUD President and the executive director of the Finnish Deaf Association, Markku Jokinen took the opportunity to explain about the Finnish Sign Language Act.
Even though Finnish Sign Language did take its first step by having their Sign Language recognised in their constitution back in 1995.
Section 17 on the ‘Right to one’s language and culture’, which makes regulations for Finnish, Swedish, Sami and Romani, and also states that “the rights of persons using sign language and of persons in need of interpretation and translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act”.
That was the first step which have resulted into this next big step which was achieved on 12 March.
Back to the 1st step, the recognition in legislation in 1995, it did not mean the Finnish signers` rights of full accessibility to the services. Therefore it were not a strong legalisation as needed.
But now, this new Act also intends to increase authorities’ awareness of signers as a linguistic and cultural group. The Act further re-establishes signers’ right (enshrined in special legislation) to receive teaching in their own language and in sign language as a subject, and their right to use sign language or interpretation and translation arranged by an authority.
The Act does not create any new rights, but rather aims to promote the linguistic rights signers already have, in practice, and clarifies their status as a language and cultural group.
We still have a long way to go, the Act will have to be implemented within Finland’s current strict economic situation with limited resources for municipalities, and continuing the work and developing the legislation further in the next government’s term.
We would like to congratulate the Finnish Deaf Community and the FAD for their work towards the Finnish Sign Language Act. It is a real example for other EU countries to follow suit.