After a 30-year campaign for language recognition, the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 was signed into legislation by President Michael D. Higgins on 24th December 2017. Probably the best Christmas present ever!
— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) December 24, 2017
Click here for a brief description of the Act in ISL.
The Act covers a number of different areas, which are summarised here (click here to download a copy of the ISL Act):
- Recognition of Irish Sign Language (ISL)
- Use of ISL in legal proceedings
- Duty of public bodies
- Engagement of verified competent Irish Sign Language interpreters
- Support for access to events, services and activities for users of ISL
- Educational supports for Deaf children
- Broadcasting principles
- Report of operation of Act
Recognition of Irish Sign Language (ISL)
The Act defines Irish Sign Language as the language used by the majority of the deaf community in the state. The Act states:
“The State recognises the right of Irish Sign Language users to use Irish Sign Language as their native language and the corresponding duty on all public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when availing of or seeking to access statutory entitlements and services.
The community of persons using Irish Sign Language shall have the right to use,
develop and preserve Irish Sign Language.”
Use of ISL in legal proceedings
Under the new Act, a Deaf person can use ISL in any court and every court is responsible for ensuring that Deaf people who appear in court or give evidence in court and who choose to use ISL in court are facilitated to do so. Using ISL in court proceedings must not place the Deaf person at a disadvantage. With all this in mind, the courts can make arrangements for ISL/English interpretation to be provided (Section 4 (1), (2) & (3)).
Duty of public bodies
The Act defines public bodies as:
- a government department (excluding the Dept. of Defence);
- a local authority;
- the HSE;
- a university or IT;
- an Education & Training Board;
- any scheme administered by a government department;
- any body established by the government;
- any company established and funded by the government;
- and any company in which the government is the majority shareholder.
The Act requires public bodies to do all that is reasonable to provide ISL interpretation when a Deaf person is accessing their service. Interpretation services are to provided at no cost to the Deaf person. If the Deaf person agrees, access can be provided through a remote interpreting service. Public bodies can establish a procedure for the provision of ISL/English interpretation. This procedure may include the Deaf person informing the public body in advance that they require the services of an interpreter (Section 6 (1), (2), (3), (4), (5) & (6)).
Engagement of verified competent Irish Sign Language interpreter
Under the Act, public bodies (including courts) are required to use only qualified ISL/English interpreters (Section 7).
Support for access to events, services and activities for users of ISL
The government can provide funding to facilitate access through ISL to “social, educational and cultural events and services (including medical) and other activities” (Section 9 (1)).
Educational supports for Deaf children
The Minister for Education & Skills will establish a scheme for the provision of ISL classes to…
“…the parents, siblings and grandparents of a child who is deaf, and other persons who serve in loco parentis or as a guardian to a child who is deaf…”
The Minister will also establish a scheme to provide ISL support to children attending recognised schools whose first language is ISL. The Act places a responsibility on the Dept. of Education & Skills to ensure that there enough placements on teacher training programmes offering Irish Sign Language for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Furthermore, the Dept. of Education & Skills can set out minimum qualifications for teachers of deaf children (Section 5).
Broadcasters are required to follow the principles of equality, dignity and respect when promoting and broadcasting programmes produced as part of their ISL targets set out in the Broadcasting Act 2009 (Section 8).
Report of operation of Act
Three years after this Act has been enacted, the Minister of Justice & Equality will prepare a report on the working of the Act. After this, a similar report is to be prepared every five years. The report will cover a number of areas included in the Act, such as the supports provided to deaf children and the assessment of qualifications for minimum ISL competency for teachers of deaf children (Section 10).