The first International Day of Sign Languages!

I’m writing this blog to celebrate the first annual UN International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL), celebrated today, September 23rd as part of the International Week of the Deaf (IWDeaf) from 23-30 September. This year’s theme is “With Sign Language, Everyone is Included!” You can learn more about this from the World Federation of the Deaf here. This celebratory day is the result of resolution A/RES/72/161 (International Sign version here) that was adopted officially adopted on 19 December 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly.

The resolution acknowledges that early access to sign language and services in sign language, including quality education available in sign language, is vital to the growth and development of the deaf individual and critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. It recognizes the importance of preserving sign languages as part of linguistic and cultural diversity, emphasizes the principle of “nothing about us without us” in terms of working with deaf communities, and affirms that sign language is of critical importance for full realization of human rights for deaf people.

This celebration ties in nicely with the opening of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly this week. The newly elected President is María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés who is the first woman from Latin America and the Caribbean to preside over the Assembly. In addition, the rights of persons with disabilities, which includes the right to sign language, is one of the seven priorities of her presidency.

This is a very special blog for me since sign language has been part of my life since I was young. I first learned American Sign Language and then went on to learn Nicaraguan, Dutch, Japanese, and Uruguayan Sign Languages from working with the deaf communities in these countries. I also worked with deaf Native Americans while living on the Navajo Nation. For many years I was a teacher at deaf schools throughout the US and in other countries, also engaged in participatory action research with deaf communities, including my doctoral research that explored deaf community activism in Uruguay. In all of these experiences around the world, the key thread that consistently emerged was – access to, the use of, and official recognition of – sign language.

Deaf children who have full-time access to quality education in sign language thrive and excel, and this is important at all ages from early access onward. Through my interviews with deaf leaders and community members in Uruguay, I found that deaf community empowerment, leadership, and activism stem from a common sign language, shared identities, and culture. Indeed, sign language and deaf culture strengthen multilingualism and are means of promoting, protecting and preserving diversity of languages and cultures globally. In the end, sign language is a critical prerequisite to the full realization of human rights for deaf people.

In my work with CBM I have the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with the World Federation of the Deaf at the United Nations as well as with deaf partners from around the world, including from Bolivia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Panama, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela, and more. Collaborative efforts have focused on creating a more accessible United Nations for deaf and hard of hearing participants, building partnerships with deaf communities and in countries where we work, and exchanging information on global, regional, and national development processes. A recent example is my presentation on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to the Deaf Association in Zurich in collaboration with CBM Switzerland. You can read more about CBM’s work with deaf communities here. 

Below is a wonderful example of national sign languages being used at the United Nations, including Finnish, Ugandan, Colombian, and Australian Sign Languages (from the UN Partnership Exchange on SDGs in July 2017, read more here about our involvement).

I’ll conclude this blog with a video of our deaf partner in Indonesia, Ms. Juniati and me in which we respectively sign our names and where we are from in American and Indonesian Sign Languages (Jakarta, Indonesia, November 2015).

An all-new video from CBM’s End the Cycle! Introducing ‘Explained’…

Have you ever wondered exactly how poverty and disability work together, creating a cycle? Or perhaps you wish you had an easy way to explain to others the links between poverty and disability?

Then our newly released video, The Cycle: Explained, may be just what you need.

It features people with disabilities from low and middle-income countries, including from CBM’s field projects, coming together to tell the story of the poverty-disability cycle. Watch and share now!

Explained is only four minutes long but it has been years in the making. End the Cycle’s crew have filmed people with disabilities in different corners of the world, talking about the cycle of poverty and disability. Then we’ve pieced it all together to create a professional, engaging, globally-relevant video.

Development practitioners, in particular, will appreciate this video. It is well suited to disability-inclusive development training and awareness raising.

Explained features on-screen sign-interpretation, along with sub-titles. We’re also currently finalising French, Spanish and Arabic versions, as well as extended audio-description versions for each language. Keep an eye on our website or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to know as these alternative versions are available.

See if you recognise any of the places shown in the video! And don’t forget we love to receive feedback, so please get in touch to let us know what you think of Explained, and how you have been able to use and share it.

Contact Anna Paix:

Suicide – devastating, common and preventable

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day 2018 on 10 September, Dr. Julian Eaton (Senior Mental Health Advisor at CBM) shares his views on a topic that is often taboo, despite desperately needing to be talked about to raise discourse, awareness, recognition and policy priority for suicide, in turn reducing a scourge that affects far too many people.

Picture copyright: Pixabay


When I was 21, my thoughtful, caring, talented, beautiful friend, killed herself. I think her funeral was the most upsetting thing I have ever attended, with all of us asking how a person with the world at her feet could feel such despair that this seemed the only solution. Her death left a hole in her family, and our circle of friends still feel the painful gap in the space she used to occupy.

September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day, a topic that is increasingly in the news, but that people still find difficult to talk about, though many people are affected. Suicide remains a taboo subject in most parts of the world, often frowned upon by cultural and religious traditions. In fact, the term ‘committing suicide’ refers to the fact that suicide was illegal in many countries. We try to avoid using this terminology, and in countries where suicide remains illegal, it is an advocacy priority to change such laws, as part of the process of challenging stigma, making it easier to talk about the issue, being able to accurately record cases of suicide, and reducing unnecessary additional suffering of families and survivors of attempted suicide.

It is a sad and shocking fact that suicide is the second most common cause of death in young people between 15 and 29 worldwide, and is the leading cause of death among young people in many European countries. In total, almost a million people die by suicide globally each year. It is estimated that for every person who dies by suicide, at least 25 attempt suicide. As well as being an awful situation for the person themselves, a suicide has a devastating effect on friends and family, and it is estimated that typically, over 100 people are effected by a single suicide.

Many people who self-harm do not intend to die, and there are many complex reasons why people do self-harm, but it is also the case that people who self-harm are more likely to go on to kill themselves by suicide, so this is an important warning sign, that should be taken seriously, and lead to support being provided.

Why do people seek to harm themselves, and what can we do to reduce suicide?
Of course suicide is strongly associated with mental ill health, and over half of people of people who die by suicide have a diagnosis of depression at the time of death. People with alcohol and drug problems, psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses are also more likely to self-harm and die by suicide. This means that good mental health services, systems to identify people who are distressed or depressed, and easy access to care are important elements for reducing suicide. Similarly, physical ill health (especially long-term, painful and disabling conditions, including non-communicable diseases (NCDs)) increases risk of suicide, so good care of physical health, as well as recognising a psychological component of such conditions is important.

Relationship problems, bereavement, unemployment, work or educational stress, economic hardship, loneliness, isolation and bullying (often online) increase risk of self-harm and suicide, particularly if they come together. Therefore, a comprehensive approach to addressing risk of suicide is important. The easier it is to access means of self-harm (guns, knives, toxic medicines etc.), the more likely people are to successfully kill themselves, so one of the most effective means of reducing suicide rates is to control access to such means of self-harm. Suicide is often carried out in particular moments of despair, which will almost always pass if a person is not able to find a means of harming themselves. One example is where simple measures to reduce easy access to pesticides, a particularly common cause of death among farmers in India, dramatically reduced suicide rates.

It usually helps to be able to talk to someone, and a listening ear, and supportive friendships can really help when people are feeling hopeless. We can all do what we can to support our own friends, or people we work with who are lonely or distressed, but we can also try to raise awareness of the issue, and advocate for more government and social action to implement the measures we know are effective. Suicide is an essential issue for mental health, and as such closely linked to Non-Communicable Diseases. The High Level Meeting on NCDs at the UN General Assembly is an opportunity to make sure that mental health and suicide are recognised, and we work together as a global health community to reduce the scourge of suicide that affects so many people.

Related links


  • RISING SUN (suicide prevention in the Arctic region) –
  • Giving LIFE a chance –
  • Pesticide Regulation for Suicide Prevention –


  • RISING SUN has produced an online Toolkit on how to measure the impact and effectiveness of suicide prevention in Indigenous groups. 5 levels of intervention a) Family b) Individual c) Clinic d) National/Regional e) Community –


  • Suicide Prevention Webinar from Dr Saxena Shekhar, Director of WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse –
  • WHO Suicide Prevention Factsheet, available in 6 languages including info on key facts, prevention & control & challenges –
  • WHO’s Community Engagement Toolkit –

The HLPF is over, now what?

The High-level Political Forum took place from 9-18 July and focused on transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under review included 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, and 17. During the second week, 46 countries presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on SDG implementation. During these VNR presentations, persons with disabilities were included 36 times largely stemming from advocacy from various stakeholders at the global, regional, and national levels via the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities.

Alt="Our DPO partner, Mohammed Loutfy, speaking about persons with disabilities in Lebanon to Ghasan Hasbani Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of Lebanon at the HLPF"

Our DPO partner, Mohammed Loutfy, speaking about persons with disabilities to Ghasan Hasbani Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of Lebanon at the HLPF


The 36 references include references to persons with disabilities in VNR presentations, civil society presentations with questions to the government, and/or government responses to other government or civil society questions. The countries in bold are where CBM was directly or indirectly involved in advocacy. Thank you to everyone who helped in this process!




Andorra, Australia, Bahamas, Benin, Cabo Verde, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Ireland, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lao PDR, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Namibia, Niger, Palestine, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

Now that the HLPF has concluded, it is important for DPOs and advocates to follow up with their government to assess outcomes and build partnerships at the national level. Not all countries have HLPF follow-up mechanisms in place, but it is important to remind political leaders that this is not a one-time obligation, but rather that this needs to be an ongoing permanent dialogue. The national follow-up mechanism should be a constructive approach to address issues raised in the global-level review process, or issues that have been left out. The following are some key points on how to initiate and participate in a follow-up process after the HLPF at the national level:

  • Watch your country’s voluntary national review on UN Web TV and in addition analyze the submissions (short and long) written reports (in some cases the reports differ from the presentations). On the basis of the analysis, prepare an advocacy paper highlighting issues that were addressed and also those left out.
  • Find out if there is a follow-up mechanism on the HLPF planned by your government.
  • (Re)connect with mainstream civil society coalitions to collaborate and propose to the government to establish a follow-up mechanism.
  • Contact and arrange meetings with the Ministry/Minister who presented at the HLPF with your advocacy paper prepared (refer above).
  • Advocate to establish synergies with other existing national follow-up or review mechanisms, such as national consultations on the SDG implementation plan, national development plan (often linked to the SDGs), and national human rights review mechanisms.
  • Propose a partnership to your government and consider engaging with the International Disability Alliance and International Disability and Development Consortium Partnership on SDGs.

These suggestions are from the CBM and International Disability Alliance Toolkit for DPOs on the Voluntary National Reviews.

Additional Information:

Resilient societies, the SDGs, and leaving no one behind