Sign language : An Expression of Human Rights
By Abhilasha Iyer
For a minute, let’s close our eyes and take a vacation to a foreign land, where the language is as foreign as its cuisine. With your explorer mode on, you set out on foot, taking in the sights and sounds of the land. You’ve reached crossroads, literally and figuratively, figuring out your route to bucket list monument. You stop a passerby and ask for directions, only to receive a blank and confused headshake in response. A game of charades and animated mouthing of words later, you finally manage to hold a conversation. (Of course, all of this assuming that Google Translate is unavailable in that moment) You walk away, relieved, with your new directions and an epiphany that signs transcend language barriers, sign language is a universal language for everyone.
We easily switch over to WhatsaApp emojis, road sign boards, GIFS, facial expressions to convey our emotions when words fall short. While signs maybe an alternate tool to express ourselves, sign language is the sole mode of communication for the deaf and dumb community.
International Week of the Deaf
The last week of September has been celebrated as the International Week of the Deaf (IWD) by the World Federation of the Deaf(WFD) since 1958 in Rome, Italy. This initiative aims to raise awareness about the deaf community.
The 2020 theme is two-fold
Sign Languages are for Everyone
Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights
Sign Languages are For Everyone
Growing up, we all developed a language we think in which is the language we are most comfortable with articulating our thoughts and emotions. Likewise, sign language is the essential human rights of the deaf community. Early exposure to this lingusitic skill improves the cognitive and socio-emotional abilities of the hearing impaired, helping them build bonds with their community early on.
According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are 72 million members of the global deaf community who speak over 300 sign languages. Each sign language has a unique grammatical structure, Despite having English as the native tongue, American Sign Language and British Sign language, vary in its application due to the variation in culture, geographies and histories of the place. In fact, the team at Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre, are creating India’s first sign language dictionary which will be accompanied by a picture for every word in English and Hindi to achieve bilingualism.
In order to preserve this multicultural diversity and reinstate the rights to equal access to education and opportunities that ensure their growth and development, the United Nations General Assembly has recognized 23rd September as International Sign Languages Day.
Reaffirm Deaf People’s Human Rights
"Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people," is a famously cited quote by Helen Keller, an American author and Disability Rights activist who was both deaf and blind.
Anne Sullivan Teaching Helen the word D-O-L-L
Helen Keller, whose both vision and hearing abilities were severely impaired by Meningitis. Despite her challenges, Helen broke barriers when Anne Sullivan, her visually impaired teacher was the light of her life. With the help of finger spelling, Anne would draw out the letters on her palm while placing an object in another. She had her first breakthrough when she learned while feeling the running water from the pump with one hand and feeling the letters of the word “w-a-t-e-r" with the other, following which she learned 30 words overnight.
For every Helen of the deaf community to break barriers like Helen, there is a growing need for educators like Anne Sullivan. In India alone, there are 50 lakh speech and hearing-impaired people who have access to only 700 schools which teach sign language. The medium of instruction in these institutions is mostly oral or written, both of which are lost in translation. Some of these institutions provide sub-standard education till grade 8, denying the basic eligibility and access to opportunity for equal employment.
Establishing institutes which promise access to bilingual education to the community and hiring trained professionals fluent in sign language, will ensure a wider sense of acceptance and inclusion in the global community
However, places like Mirchi and Mime, a dining restaurant in Mumbai which is served exclusively by the deaf and the dumb is a ray of hope for the community, ensuring equal access to employment opportunities.
While there is a lot more work to be done in breaking barriers, at QShala we believe that learning is always a great place to start to shun the ignorance, break barriers and create a safer and more inclusive world for everyone.