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Sign language - beyond 'listening' from hand movements

Published:Sunday | September 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMDeniese Badroe
Jordon Bent (right) assist Dr.Hixwell Douglas (left) in forming letters in sign language during the Official Launch of the USAID/JAD Partnership for Literacy Enhancement for the Deaf Project last year.

Today, September 23, is being observed as International Day of Sign Languages (IDSLs). This new annual celebration was declared by resolution of the United Nations on December 13, 2017. It affords individuals and advocacy groups around the globe the opportunity to increase their understanding of the human rights of deaf.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, deaf persons have a right to be educated in sign language, and under this agreement, governments, including Jamaica's, have an obligation to facilitate the learning of sign language and to promote the linguistic identity of the deaf community.

Following the commemoration of IDSLs, there is a weeklong celebration of International Week of the Deaf (IWDeaf), which ends on Sunday, September 30, 2018.

In reference to the IDSLs, United Nations' resolution, Colin Allen, president of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), observed that 'this resolution recognises the importance of sign language and services in sign language being available to deaf people as early in life as possible. It also emphasises the principle of "nothing about us without us" in terms of working with deaf communities. With effect from the year 2018, the WFD is overjoyed at the prospect of observing and celebrating this day annually.'

The IDSLs and IWDeaf theme for 2018 is "With Sign Language, Everyone Is Included," With this in mind, the aim globally is to:

- Reach out to and influence as many governments as possible to legally fulfil their obligations.

- Promote deaf people as unique in having both perspectives of disability and linguistic minority and the understanding that sign language and deaf culture strengthens multilingualism and are means of promoting, protecting, and preserving the diversity of languages and cultures globally.

- Reflect the principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in its recognition of sign languages as equal to spoken languages and being fully-fledged natural languages, structurally distinct from spoken languages, alongside which they coexist.

- Emphasise sign language as a critical prerequisite to the full realisation of human rights for deaf people and in recognition 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 internationally agreed development goals.

- Stress that when working with deaf communities, the principle of "nothing about us without us" must be considered and integrated.


The Gift of Language


Communication is essential, and being able to communicate is the greatest gift one can offer a child. Children need early exposure and full access to a natural language. Babies who can hear have access to a language from they are in the womb and can hear voices before they are born. However, this is not so for deaf children, who have to wait until after birth before they are exposed to a language. Provided that hearing loss was not detected early, the child may be deprived of a language until it is too late.

Parents should ensure that their children get their ears tested at an early age. If there is a detection of hearing loss, it is imperative that the child be introduced to a language such as sign language and have access to quality education in a language and environment that maximise his/her full potential.

Sign language is critical for deaf persons to be able to communicate. Without this opportunity to communicate, they can live a life of seclusion and social deprivation, which negatively affects their development. It is language deprivation that hinders the development of deaf children, not auditory deprivation. A bilingual approach to the education of deaf children that uses both Jamaican Sign language (JSL) and written English to enhance their linguistic skills has been adopted.

It is also of vital importance that teachers of the deaf are qualified in JSL and the universities and teachers' colleges that are preparing these teachers for special education ensure that JSL courses, as part of the suite of courses within the curriculum, are adequate to prepare teachers to effect a bilingual approach within schools for the deaf.


Fostering an Inclusive Jamaica


The Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD), in an effort to espouse the inclusion of the Deaf community in mainstream society, offers JSL and deaf culture-sensitisation classes to the public and to corporate entities. Some organisations in Jamaica have embraced the concept of being inclusive by providing training in JSL for staff members who interact with deaf clients.

A partnership with the University of Technology has churned out JSL classes as part of the Dental and the Child and Adolescent Development degree programmes. Staff members at the Ministry of Health, Abilities Foundation, and Hilton Resorts and Spa have participated in JSL classes and can oblige deaf clients.

With the passage of the Disabilities Act 2014 and with its codes of conduct in the offing, heightened interest in facilitating the deaf is anticipated. JAD is petitioning for the support of the public. Knowing and understanding JSL can help to protect a deaf child who may be in trouble.

For further information about JSL and deaf culture, please contact or call 876-9701778. Deniese Badroe is the director of Business Development Division at JAD.