What is Indian Sign Language? Why should you learn it?

Sign language is a means of communication for and with deaf people. Visual cues like hand gestures, signals, facial expressions and body movements are used for sign language all over the world. There are over 300 different sign languages, each unique with a few symbols.

September 23 is celebrated annually as International Sign Language Day. The date was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2017 at its 72nd session to celebrate the establishment of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) on September 23, 1951. Below we take a look at the language of the Deaf. Indian signs and discuss why we should learn it.


Indian Sign Language (ISL) has developed over the past century and has been teaching since 2001. According to the BBC, around 700 Indian schools teach sign language. ISL has its unique grammar and gestures, but there are regional differences.

It was Sibaji Panda, a deaf teacher, who created and introduced the very first formal ISL training course at the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for Speech and Hearing Disorders (AYJNISHD), in 2001. Panda is the founding member of the Indian Sign. Association of Language Teachers (ISLTA) and Association of Indian Sign Language Interpreters (ISLIA).

In 2011, India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment helped set up the Indian Sign Language Training and Research Center (ISLRTC) at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). However, this center was closed and re-established in 2015 as an association under the Department of Empowerment of People with Disabilities of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE).


There is a general lack of awareness in India about sign languages, even among members of the deaf community. Many parents do not know how to communicate with their deaf children. Often deaf people are ridiculed or ignored by others who can hear.

Learning ISL will fill these gaps and create sensitivity to the Deaf community and its culture. Currently, there are less than 300 ISL certified interpreters, and more are urgently needed. ISL visual dictionaries are also available to help us learn the language better.

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