Indian Sign Language

Context: Sarah Sunny becoming the first deaf advocate to use Indian Sign Language (ISL) to argue a case in the Supreme Court.

About Indian Sign Language

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  • It is the primary sign language used by the deaf and hard of hearing community in India. It is a visual-gestural language that employs a combination of handshapes, facial expressions, and body movements to convey meaning. 
  • It is not only a means of communication for the hearing-impaired, but a is a symbol of their pride and identity. 
  • The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act 2016 recognises sign language as a means of communication which is especially useful for communication with persons with hearing disability. 
  • The Act further mandates governments to promote use of sign language to enable persons with hearing disability to participate and contribute to their community and society.

Initiatives to promote sign language

  • UN’s International Day of Sign Languages: Celebrated annually on September 23, this day is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of sign languages and promoting their use in various spheres of society. To protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users.
    • In 2018, as part of the International Week of the Deaf, the International Day of Sign Languages was observed for the first time.
    • September 23 was picked to celebrate the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) established in 1951.
    • Theme of 2023: A World Where Deaf People Can Sign Anywhere.
  • The Billion Readers (BIRD) initiative: To ensure daily and lifelong reading practice for a billion people in India by adding Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on mainstream entertainment content on television and streaming platforms. 
    • SLS is the idea of subtitling audio-visual (AV) content in the ‘same’ language as the audio to serve one vision “Every Indian, a fluent reader”.
    • SLS was conceived for mass reading in 1996 at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). 
  • Indian Sign Language Dictionary: To remove communications barriers between the deaf and hearing communities as it is focused on providing more information in Indian sign language. 
    • Its aim is to give Deaf people the constitutional right as well as the opportunity of freedom of expression and also bringing them into the main stream of the society. 
    • Developed by Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre (ISLR&TC).
    • The ISL dictionary consists of words of many categories like everyday terms, legal terms, academic terms, medical terms, and technical terms.
    • 1st edition of the ISL Dictionary programme launched in 2018, 2nd edition in 2019 and 3rd edition in 2021.


  • To promote the use of Indian Sign Language as educational mode for deaf students at primary, secondary and higher education levels.
    • To carry out research through collaboration with universities and other educational institution in India and abroad to promote, propagate and upgrade Indian Sign Language.
  • It was established under the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012). Earlier, it existed as an autonomous center of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Delhi.
  • Later, in 2015, it became a society under the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities under Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

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