The World Federation for the Deaf

Sign language

Sign language (c) heatherbirdtx

By Kourosh Taheri-Golvarzi

Every language is a culture in itself, what has been called a “languaculture.” Like each languaculture in different nations and societies, there’s also a usually unnoticed but very strongly present worldwide deaf culture and Sign Language. The cohesive representing body for Sign Language is the World Federation for the Deaf (WFD), and their international headquarters is right here in Helsinki.

Sharing a building with around 80 other offices of varying backgrounds in a joint partnership with the Finnish Association for the Deaf, the Government of Finland has recently approved 50 thousand euros in the national budget for the WFD as well as advocacy and support for deaf citizens ( Its very existence is a testament to the genuine progressive-mindedness inherent within Finnish culture as a whole.

The meekly sized WFD office is staffed by two kindly ladies, Torun and Phillipa (soon to be four people), houses shelves of paperwork, and isn’t usually open to the general public at large as visitation tends to be by appointment, though the staff are quite happy to welcome those who come in with questions and want to know about the organization. They have a newsletter, membership, study resources and links and connections to other deaf organizations around the world.

Still, despite the office’s modest size and staff, their presence is absolutely in no way at all insignificant. The WFD has a special consultative status in the United Nations and has done much to champion the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing the world over. Among other accomplishments, they’ve promoted Sign Bilingualism as a human right, championed 5 articles in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities directly relating to sign languages and the deaf, and worked in collaboration with the Rochester Institute of Technology to study features that specific to the deaf brain.

They host and organize events from time to time and since they’re worldwide, chances are, you can catch one of their events no matter where in the world you are, and you can find them at:

The building is actually very easy to find. You can take a bus from Elietinaukio, behind Vltava restaurant (12 bonus points if you can pronounce it), which is right next to Helsinki’s central railway station (Rautatientori) on the west side. From there, take either bus 40 or 43 (which leave, respectively, from bays 21 and 22), and get off at bus stop Haagan Ammattikoulu. Landmarks to look for so that  you know you’re close: first, you’ll pass under an overpass bridge, then there will be a K Supermarket on your right, then a Siwa market on your left. The WFD office is in the Valkea Talo (Light House) building: a big, white structure with a semicircle-shaped section on the left side of the road.

So, if you’re in the neighbourhood, consider stopping by to say hello! Your postcards back to the folks will tell of unique stories when you return home.

This article is a guest post by Kourosh Taheri-Golvarzi.

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