UNCRPD and its relevance for deaf people and sign language Interpreters

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is an international treaty which identifies the rights of disabled people.  It also holds obligations on Parliament to promote, protect and ensure those rights don’t stop.

The government can ratify the optional protocol within this convention.  This would allow deaf and disabled people to share their experiences, which are then communicated to the UN. This can only happen when all preceding options have been tried. It is up to the committee to investigate and decide whether the convention has been broken.


The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) focuses its work on the UN Convention.  This is a surefire way to bring about change for deaf people who the local governments are not supporting.

One of the most relevant issues relating to deaf people is in article 9.

Accessibility – “To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.”

Point ‘e’ states “to provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including professional sign language interpreters.”

In the UK

The committee has remarked to the UK government that they must “ensure that legislation provides the right to educated high-quality sign language interpretation…in all spheres of life.”   This is the key loophole in current UK law, as identified by the British Deaf Association (BDA).

The BSL Act

This statement was made back in 2017.  Here in the UK, we are still waiting to follow in the footsteps of the BSL Scotland Act and the Irish Sign Language Act.

The natural next step would be to follow the precedent set by Scotland and Ireland.  This would allow Deaf BSL users to be more vocal about their needs. It would be fantastic to think that with the power of the UNCRPD, we could see a BSL Act in England.  This could only happen once Brexit is over and the dust has settled, of course.

In my opinion, this is something we, as a deaf and interpreter community, need to prepare ourselves for.  Governments will be looking to us for guidance on how to make services accessible. And as a consequence, there will also be an increased demand for sign language interpreting. Therefore, as a profession, we need to be prepared for this to happen by supporting the next generation of interpreters.

We can all be a part of this exciting change, but we need to take action now to prepare for what will be a pivotal step for deaf people’s rights.

And like Mahatma Gandhi famously said, Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”