Sign language is as an important medium of communication as any of the spoken languages of the world. There has been an ever increasing awareness about learning sign language by the hearing community.
The realisation that sign language is not confined to the deaf people only has led to marking September 23rd as the International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL) in 2018.
“This International Day recognises the importance of sign languages for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfilling its core promise of leaving no one behind. It also offers an opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all sign language users,” António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said in his message.
According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 72 million deaf people worldwide. More than 80% of them live in developing countries. Collectively, they use more than 300 different sign languages.
As per the information gleaned by Community, sign languages are fully developed natural languages, structurally distinct from the spoken languages. There is also an international sign language, which is used by deaf people in international meetings and informally when travelling and socialising. It is considered a pidgin form of sign language that is not as complex as natural sign languages and has a limited lexicon.
The first IDSL was celebrated in 2018 under the theme “With Sign Language, Everyone is Included!”
The UN General Assembly resolution establishing the day acknowledges 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. It recognises the importance of preserving sign languages as part of linguistic and cultural diversity. It also emphasises the principle of “nothing about us without us” in terms of working with deaf communities.
The over-arching theme of IDSL 2019 is “Sign Language Rights for All!” IDSL corresponds with International Week of the Deaf, and each day of the week has a sub-theme.
On the eve of the IDSL, Community spoke to Dr Sameer Samreen, a Jordanian expatriate working with Al Jazeera Network as a senior sign language presenter. “I have a PHD in sign language. I am also the president of the Arab Organization for Sign Language Interpreters – ‘Selaa’. At the same time, I am the representative of the ‘World’s Association of Sign Language Interpreters’ (WASLI) in the Arab region.”
Sharing how his interest in the sign langue developed, Dr Sameer said: “After graduating from university, I started my first professional career as a sports trainer for the deaf. This meant sign language played a major role in my daily life, so the people I worked with were the first who taught me sign language. Later, I decided to further my research and education in the field. I have also written many books about sign language.”
When asked what needs to be done to further the cause of sign language, the expert said: “Sign language is the native language for the deaf. There is no difference between spoken languages and sign language so it continues to develop through the deaf community as more words develop and so the sign language undergoes evolution. It is a lively and enjoyable language. It allows the deaf to communicate their thoughts, emotions, and needs. This language develops as the deaf communities broaden their education levels and modernise and add more symbols that convey new words.”
Speaking about the status of the sign language in Qatar, Dr Sameer said: “Recently, there has been more awareness and care about spreading the sign language and normalising it to allow better communication with the deaf communities. Qatar has shown interest and care by starting the ‘The Qatari Centre for the Deaf’ and this organisation started training and teaching sign language to those who are even able to hear. Qatar has also helped in creating dictionaries for the sign language to help the deaf Arab communities and the interpreters.
Speaking about the challenges the language faces at international level, the expert said: “We still face a lot of issues and difficulties because there aren’t enough sign language interpreters in hospitals, schools, and at airports etc. My message to the world is that it is crucial to learn sign language so we can allow deaf people to join the public community as this will help them feel less ostracised. I hope the invisible barrier between the deaf and the hearing worlds can be cleared.”
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