There is only one university in the world where classes are conducted entirely in sign language - the Gallaudet University in the United States. The University welcomes 2000 students, and yet, the World Federation of the Deaf estimates that there are about 70 million deaf worldwide.
This project would like to breach the gap little by little, at least at the European level, where there is a serious lack of higher education institutions that offer the deaf - training in their own languages.
To create a sign language University would give the deaf and the hearing-impaired students access to equal opportunities. By taking sign language as the language of communication between students (deaf and hearing) and teachers (also deaf and hearing), this project aims to:
- Demonstrate that sign languages are languages of scientific research and transmission
- Make the academic world accessible to the deaf population, which is still too a large extent being excluded
- Increase the number of non deaf sign language speakers.
By the way: did you know that American Sign Language is already the fourth most taught language in the United States?
The European University in sign language project would implement Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Signatory states are especially encouraged to give the disabled the opportunity to acquire the practical and social skills necessary to facilitate their full and legal participation in the educational system and in community life. To this end, State Parties shall take the appropriate measures, including:
- To facilitate the learning of sign language and promote the linguistic identity of the deaf
- To see to it that the blind, deaf or the deaf and blind - and especially children receive education in the language through the modes and means of communication that is best suited to the individual, in environments which maximize academic progress and social development.
To facilitate the exercise of this right, State Parties shall take appropriate measures to employ teachers, including teachers with disabilities, who are qualified to teach sign language or Braille, and train professionals and educational staff at all levels. Such training shall include disability awareness and how to use the improved and alternative communication modes, means, formats, techniques and teaching materials for the disabled.
State Parties will see to it that the disabled have access to general tertiary education, professional training, adult education and continuous learning - without discrimination and are treated equally among others. To this end, they must see to it that reasonable accommodation is provided to people with disabilities.
Located in the heart of Europe and in a European university system, which would be much more accessible than the American system, a European sign language university would operate as a major attraction that would create a new centre for culture and for the deaf community.
By definition, an institution of this type also functions as a bridge between the deaf and the hearing world - initially throughout the university, but also at a local level, where it would operate, the teaching of sign language in all child care centres in German and in city schools is also an integral part of creating this project, and the American experience in Washington has shown that sign language has exported well beyond campus boundaries.
Finally, the pool of academics and researchers who are deaf or hearing (who know sign language) that graduate from the University may in turn help train other deaf people and address the shortage of bilingual professionals.