University of Edinburgh

Creating Linguistic Access for Deaf and Deafblind People; A Strategy for Scotland

Thursday 6th March 2003

Linguistic Access for Deaf People in Finland and Scotland Comparisons and Contrasts

Markku Jokinen, Faculty of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


  • Description of the Finnish situation
  • Finnish Sign Language (FinSL) in legislation and practical implications
  • concepts of "Finnish sign language user and native signer"
  • Comments on the report "Creating Linguistic Access for Deaf and Deafblind People: A Strategy for Scotland"

Some basic facts about Finland

  • c 5 million inhabitants " 5,000 deaf
  • 14,000 Sign Language users
  • 150 Finnish-Swedish deaf people (dialect or language")
  • Finnish Sign Language (FinSL) recognised in the Constitution 1995
  • 5 domestic languages
  • The Finnish Association of the Deaf (FAD) has worked actively to improve the legal status of FinSL.

Finnish Sign Language in Legislation

The Constitution of Finland (731/1999, (before 1995 Constitution Act, section 14:3) section 17 1999)

  • The rights of people using Sign Language and of people in need of interpretation or translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act.
  • the second country in the world after Uganda.

Working group of the Ministry of Justice (1996)

  • to assess what measures the section 14:3 requires and by what means those who use Sign language can be guaranteed treatment equal to other linguistic and cultural minorities
  • Section 14:3 obliges public authorities to take active steps to guarantee those who use Sign Language the possibility of use their own language and develop their own culture
    o enactment of legislation
    o economic or other regulative measures

Safeguarding legal position (the most important areas according to the Working Group)

  • early upbringing
  • access to schooling
  • research and education in the area of Sign Language
  • access to interpretation service
  • access to information
  • better possibilities for efficient sign language training to the families of the deaf children
  • school legislation should guarantee a child a right o training the Sign language on the bases of a language right and not only on the basis of the degree of his/her hearing impairment
  • vocational education in Sign Language > competence of a SL instructor
  • establishing research and education unit in Sign language at university level
  • adequacy and efficiency of the interpretation survey should be examined and information and guidance to the municipalities and service users
  • access to information in SL, municipalities should be responsible for arranging services in SL, Ministries and County Administrative Boards should arrange sufficient monitoring, reporting and guidance
  • possibility of providing legal right for those who use SL to institute proceedings and to receive documents in SL should be investigated
  • consultative committee/follow-up procedure be established> observing and advancing the position of those who use SL.

7 years have passed after publishing the report of the Working Group. Many measures suggested by the Working Group have been realised, some still not. In this presentation you will see what the situation looks like today in Finland.

School legislation

Law on basic education (628/98)

"10, sect. 1
The language of instruction of the school is either Finnish or Swedish. The Sami, Romany or Sign Language can also be used as languages of instruction.

sect. 2
"Those with an impaired hearing must be taught also in SL, when necessary.

"12, sect. 2
On the basis of the guardian"s choice, also the Romany language, Sign Language or other mother tongue of the pupil can be taught as a mother tongue.

Law on upper secondary school (629/98)

" 6, sect. 1
The language of instruction in the upper secondary school is either Finnish or Swedish. The Sami, Romany or SL can also be used as a language of instruction "

"8, sect. 2
On the basis of the student"s choice, also the Romany language, SL or other mother tongue or the student can be taught as a mother tongue.

Law on vocational education (630/98)

"11, sect. 1
In vocational education, the language of instruction is either Finnish or Swedish. The Sami, Romany or SL can also be used as languages of instruction"

" 12, sect. 3
On the basis of the student"s choice, also the Romany language, SL or other mother tongue or the student can be taught as a mother tongue.

School situation

  • 13 municipal schools (day schools), 3 state schools (dorm schools)
  • About 350 FinSL using students, over 900 other students (hard of hearing, students with dysphasia, language problems or multiple disabilities) in the schools.
  • In practice only few of the SL using children actually have the opportunity to receive instruction in their mother tongue
    o heterogenic groups, too many schools
    o shortage of teachers who know FinSL well enough
    o didactic material available in FinSL is scarce.
  • The core curriculum for basic education at different school levels is now being reformed: SL taught as the mother tongue to both deaf and hearing pupils who use SL.
  • All municipalities must follow the core curriculum.
  • Most of the deaf students study with hearing students at post-comprehensive school education (general upper secondary, vocational) and higher education (universities and polytechnics).

Core curriculum (grades 1-2 and grades 3-9, experimental phase 2003-2004:

Mother tongue and literature:

  • Finnish, Swedish, Sami, Romany, SL as mother tongue, mother tongue of immigrants
  • Finnish and Swedish as second language
  • Finnish for the Sami people
  • Finnish for native signers/SL users
  • Swedish for native signers/SL users

Education of linguistic and cultural groups:

  • Sami people
  • Romany people
  • Native signers/SL users
  • Immigrants

Hearing pupils can choose FinSL as an optional subject if it is available at their school. The need for research of FinSL and the development of teaching material in SL has increased.

Class Teacher Programme of Finnish Sign Language Users

  • started 1998, funded by Ministry of Education
  • 5-year training, MEd level
  • working together with Finnish using class teacher education, University of Jyväskylä
  • two groups of deaf students ("98: 9 students, "01: 10 students)
  • training coordinator, interpreter coordinator and 5 interpreters

Sign Language using class teacher"

  • teacher who uses children"s (from deaf to hearing) own language in a classroom
  • not a special education teacher
  • gradually growing need for teaching FinSL to hearing children of deaf parents
  • possibilities to study to become a subject teacher in FinSL (grades 6-9 in basic education and grades 1-3 at upper secondary level)

Competencies to implement and develop

  • learning SL as a mother tongue
  • learning Finnish/Swedish as a second language
  • bi/multilingual and cultural learning
  • see

Sign Language Interpreting services in Finland

Financed by the state since 1979. Services and Assistance for the Disabled Act (380/87) states the municipality shall provide interpreting services in order to manage everyday affairs, free of charge. Support and assistance for the Disabled Decree (759/87) including interpreting services comprising interpreting needed for work, studies, social participation, recreation or an other corresponding purposes for a minimum 120 (deafblind 240) hours during a calendar year; more hours can be applied to individual needs o interpreting services related to studies shall be arranged to the extent needed by the person concerned for coping with his or her studies.

How interpreting services are organised

  • local authorities decide who can use the service and defrays the expenses
  • 23 interpreting agencies; about 40 full-time interpreters in position
  • cooperative Via established by interpreters; 45 members
  • about 100 full-time freelancers and 100 educational interpreters
  • lack of interpreters is still a problem all over Finland.

History of Interpreter training

  • Short training courses organised by the Finnish Association for the Deaf in 1978 " 1985.
  • One-year training 1983-1986
  • Two-year vocational training 1986-1988
  • Three-year vocational training 1988-1997
  • Degree programme in SL Interpretation, 210 ECTS credits 1998-2002
  • Degree programme in SL Interpretation, 240 ECTS credits autumn 2003 "
  • three training programmes under 1) Humanities Polytechnic, Helsinki and 2) Kuopio units (more information:; 3) Diaconia Polytechnic, Turku unit (more information:
  • Deaf persons study to become interpreter-translators

Vocational qualification in sign language instruction

  • upper secondary degree
  • various assistance and instruction tasks in which SL is needed
  • instruction and assistance in day care centres and with children, in free time activities as well as in studies, in institutions, and among the elderly
  • personal instructors and assistants to deafblind and in various tasks as a backup person
  • scope of the degree is 120 credits (three years)
  • in Turku and Rovaniemi (2003)

Finnish Sign Language studies at two universities.

University of Jyväskylä: Basic and subject specific levels (70 ECTS credits). Sign Language as a first language and SL as a foreign language. The courses include SL skills and courses on general linguistics and communication studies; the culture and history of the deaf population; the structure and research of SL, and the acquisition of SL and bilingualism. Sign language at the basic level can also be studies at the Open University (see

University of Turku Basic level, 40 ECTS credits. See

Other laws

Law on Administrative Procedure (598/82, " 22, sect. 1)
"The authorities must take care of interpretation in a case that can be instituted by initiative of the authorities, if the party involved does not speak the language used by the authority, as defined in the Language Act (148/22) or due to a deficiency in the person"s senses or speech, the person cannot be understood."

Law on Criminal Investigation (449/1987, "37
"The criminal investigation authority shall make the arrangements for interpretation if the person being questioned cannot speak the language used before the authority under the Language Act (148/1922) or, owing to a sensory handicap or a speech defect, cannot make himself understood."

Law on the position and rights of the social welfare client (812/00, " 4)
"When executing social welfare, the wishes, opinions, interests and individual needs as well as the mother tongue and cultural background of the client must be taken into account."

The Research Institute for the Languages of Finland is a linguistic research institute of the Finnish State. We study Finnish, Swedish, the Saami languages, Romany and Finnish Sign Language. Our operations include language planning, dictionary compilation and various research projects. We also have an extensive library and comprehensive linguistic archives. See

Law on the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland (591/96) " 1, sect. 2
Among the duties of the Research Institute is to take care of research and the preservation of the purity of Sign Language and the Romany language.

Decree on the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland (758/96) " 1
The duties of the Institute include: Studying Finnish and Swedish, Sami (Lappish) and other related languages as well as the Finnish Sign Language and the Romany language.

The expertise organs for the Research Institute are the Boards for the Finnish, Swedish and Sami languages and the Boards for the Sign Language and the Romany language.

The task of the Board is to decide upon recommendations of principal or general nature in this field.

Act on Yleisradio Oy (746/98) Section 7

  • "4) to treat in its broadcasting Finnish and Swedish speaking citizens on equal grounds and to produce services in the same and Romany languages and in Sign Language as well as, where applicable, also for other language groups in the country;"
  • 5 minutes news in Sign Language every day throughout the year, 5 deaf signers, 1 deaf journalist (YLE, Finnish Broadcasting Company)
  • monthly video programmes in Sign Language by FAD to over 2,000 homes, funded by municipalities (see for more information about other services in FinSL
  • several SL internet pages (for example: 2001 Introduction to the Parliament of Finland see

Other services in FinSL by FAD

  • 15 social workers whose second language is FinSL throughout the country
  • Family courses and children's camps
  • Virtual Study and Career Counselling Centre in Sign Language (
  • Labour market consult network (deaf specialists)
  • Mental health therapy services in FinSL
  • Virtual School in SL (
  • Sign Language teaching project
  • Distance interpreting service project
  • Note also services of Service Foundation of the Deaf

Some comments on "A strategy for Scotland"

The document is well done (clear structure) and it covers the most important areas of Scottish deaf and deafblind people's lives. The linguistic human rights approach is a solution to many problems.

Chief barriers to inclusion (lack of personnel, resources and materials, research information, public awareness and understanding of the relevant linguistic issues) are/were the same as in Finland.

If Scotland adopts this long-term and well-defined strategy, it could reach Nordic countries or even take a lead within EU member states!

The Scottish Centre for Deaf Studies' consortium idea is a must in today's world; makes use of virtual networks and international partners (strong international deaf community); Deaf representatives and well-trained deaf and hearing native signer personnel; government funding plus other long lasting project funding (EU).

BSL as a subject not only for deaf students but hearing children of BSL users (their mother tongue, will grow up bilingual at least) too! Native signers of all ages have a right to study their first language as a mother tongue (many hearing people know much more about SL than native signers) life learning principle.

Use of digital multimedia multilingual material in the internet and mobile communication systems grows rapidly.

Campaigns and work for sound political networks; leadership training for deaf people; UN Standard Rules.

Cooperation with other European Centres of SL, European Union of the Deaf, NADs needed SL status work in Europe.

Strategy with suggestions for practical measures and recognition in legislation is a powerful combination for ensuring linguistic human rights to Scottish native signers.