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Special Content

Issue no 29, 15-21 October 2022

Indian Sign Language

An Inclusive Communication


Hon'ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, in his recent 'Mann ki Baat', talked in length about the Indian Sign Language and Indian Sign Language Research and Training Center (ISLRTC). He talked about how the campaign about sign language that had started in the country 7-8 years ago, with the establishment of ISLRTC, is benefitting millions of speciallyabled persons. Let us get to know more about the Indian Sign Language


What is Sign Language?: Britannica defines 'sign language' as any means of communication through bodily movements, especially of the hands and arms, used when spoken communication is impossible or not desirable. The practice is probably older than speech. Sign language may be as coarsely expressed as mere grimaces, shrugs, or pointings; or it may employ a delicately nuanced combination of coded manual signals reinforced by facial expression and perhaps augmented by words spelled out in a manual alphabet. Wherever vocal communication is impossible, as between speakers of mutually unintelligible languages or when one or more would-be communicators is deaf, sign language can be used to bridge the gap.


Indian Sign Language: Indian Sign Language is used in the deaf community all over India. The deaf community in India in urban areas comes together in educational institutions, deaf clubs and associations, and social gatherings. In rural areas, deaf people are usually isolated from each other and have no or little access to any sign language. Therefore, the use of Indian Sign Language is currently concentrated in towns and cities. It remains a major challenge to provide access to Indian Sign Language for persons with hearing impairment in rural areas. It was imperative that an independent institute on Indian Sign Language be set up so that there is exclusive focus on promoting Indian Sign Language and conducting training and research on ISL. Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC), New Delhi, an autonomous body under the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, was established in 2015. The Centre's vision is to build an inclusive society in which equal opportunities are provided for the growth and development of Persons with Disabilities so that they can lead productive, safe and dignified lives. The objectives of the ISLRTC include:


·         Developing manpower for using Indian Sign Language (ISL) and teaching and conducting research in ISL, including bilingualism;

·         Promoting the use of ISL as an educational medium for deaf students at primary, secondary and higher education levels;

·         Carrying out research through collaboration with universities and other educational institutions in India and abroad and create linguistic records/ analyses of the ISL, including creation of ISL corpus (vocabulary);

·         Orienting and training various groups, i.e. Government officials, teachers, professionals, community leaders and the public at large for understanding and using ISL;

·         Collaborating with organizations of the deaf and other institutions in the field of disability to promote and propagate ISL; and

·         Collecting information relating to sign language used in other parts of the world so that this input can be used to upgrade the Indian Sign Language. In 2018, the first Indian Sign Language Dictionary of 3,000 words was launched. Today the dictionary has 10,000 words. Developed by Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre (ISLRTC) under Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), M/o Social Justice & Empowerment, the dictionary consists of various categories of words. The ISL dictionary consists of words of five categories:

·         Everyday Terms: This category includes terms that are used in everyday communication. The videos contain the sign and the corresponding English term.

·         Legal Terms: This category includes videos for 237 legal terms that help explain complicated legal terminology like "Affidavit", "Acquittal", etc, that are used in various legal situations.

·         Academic Terms: To help deaf children understand complex academic concepts, the academic dictionary contains explanations for terms like "Nervous System", "Rotation" and "Revolution", etc. The words are from various subjects like Physics, Geography, Biology, Maths, etc. This category contains 229 videos for 212 terms.

·         Medical Terms: This category includes 200 sign videos for 200 medical terms that will help the deaf community to better understand medical terminology used in hospitals and in medical situations.

·         Technical Terms: This category has 206 videos of signs and explanations in ISL for 204 technical terms that are used in vocational training or in computer courses.


The ISLRTC has developed an ISL Dictionary for deaf people and hearing people, offering them the maximum words to learn and expressing their feelings, ideas, etc. The aim of the ISL dictionary is to help spread the use of ISL and result in better education and employment opportunities for deaf people. The dictionary is intended to serve as a resource for ISL teachers, ISL learners, teachers of the deaf, interpreters, parents of deaf children, researchers, etc. Deaf users will benefit from this dictionary since they can look up information about a particular sign and its English/Hindi equivalents. The ISL Dictionary also contains regional signs used in different parts of the country. The basic idea is to remove communication barriers between the deaf and hearing communities. Its aim is to give deaf people the constitutional right to speech and opportunity of freedom of expression and also bring them into the mainstream of the society. A word list was also given with the English and Hindi equivalents of the signs. The academic, medical, legal and technical terms have explanations in ISL so that deaf can understand the complex terms that are commonly used in education or in legal or medical situations. Since the launch, the ISL Dictionary has been utilized by special educators, ISL interpreters, parents of children with hearing disabilities, professionals in the field, organizations working with people with hearing disabilities as well as by the general public. The dictionary is also being used as a resource to develop educational content for children with disabilities and speech/textto-sign and sign-to-speech/text machine translation software. The ISL Dictionary is a crucial resource for promoting awareness about ISL, facilitating communication and providing better accessibility services to persons with hearing disabilities, and thus is a necessary step in realizing the goals of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016. Indian Sign Language in NEP The National Education Policy 2020 at para 4.22, inter-alia, recommends for standardization of the Indian Sign Language (ISL) across the country and development of National and State curriculum materials for use by students with hearing impairment. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the ISLRTC for developing NCERT textbook based videos in Indian Sign Language. The ISL Dictionary, launched in video format, and is available on DIKSHA Portal for wider access and dissemination among stakeholders. NCERT is strengthening this dictionary by embedding audio and subtitles in the videos so that the reach of the 10,000 words dictionary is not restricted to the hearing impaired only. In addition, NCERT is also collaborating with ISLRTC to add new terms and words based on school curriculum to the existing ISL Dictionary of 10,000 words. So far, NCERT has developed 800 plus ISL videos from classes I to VI and uploaded on DIKSHA for its use by hearing impaired (HI) persons. These videos are also disseminated through PM eVidya (One Class, One Channel), DTH TV Channels, on a regular basis to ensure coherent access to these econtents.


Compiled by: Anuja Bhardwajan & Annesha Banerjee Source: PIB/ISLRTC/Britannica