One of the most effective ways to learn about oneself is by taking seriously the cultures of others. It forces you to pay attention to those details of life which differentiate them from you. Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (1959)
This cannot be truer. From childhood till the destined last hour, every person learns something from those around them, and it seems we learn more from exterior-sources than internal revelations throughout those years. Language is an easy example. It is present in every civilization, nation, and community; varying in written form, accent, and logic diction, but transmitting the same messages between people. These messages constitute the majority of human experiences from the positive to negative; enables the inheritance of culture, knowledge, and wisdom, and makes way for intellectual and occupational growth. Appreciation of cultural diversity is hence inexplicably vital for both the society and individual. However, there are languages which are dying out- or have died out- due to low numbers of speakers, and those which are invalidated due to their associations with, say, disability.
Sign Language: Semantics of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
|“I Love You” in Sign Language|
Sign language has been present for as long as human beings have existed. Codes were displayed using the body, facial expressions, and hands to pass information between people without having to speak. It seems this has been forgotten. Sign language is not only a language and mother-tongue for the deaf and hard of hearing but is- dare I say- the most spoken language in the world. Deaf or not, even you sign. The only difference is that it is casual and not consciously done within a structured linguistic system as it is with the sign language users of the DHH (Deaf and Hard of Hearing) community.
Sign Language varies from nation to nation due to local language, and cultural, influence, but the alphabet is popular in many nations and communicating with foreign deaf persons is not entirely impossible, but it can be challenging. Despite dialectic division between international DHH communities, the International Week of the Deaf, beginning on the International Day of the Deaf on September 23rd, is observed unanimously around the world in vibrant varieties of events, activities and festivities.
International Week of the Deaf/Deaf Awareness Week
International Week/Month of the Deaf is annually celebrated by individuals, local communities, and national-regional associations of the deaf globally. While this event is also known as Deaf Awareness Week/Month, the official title is International Week/Month of the Deaf (IWDeaf). The first celebration of deaf culture and its different communities was in 1958 by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) on September 23rd. The day is also known as the International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL). The day was later extended to encompass the last week of September and it is a time of increasing public awareness and appreciation of deaf issues, identity, and culture. Activities and events are made by various groups to meet the intention and encourage hearing and DHH individuals to come together as a community for the educational and celebratory experience. While the International Day of the Deaf is in September, some countries celebrate the Awareness Week in other months.
2019 IWDeaf Theme: Sign Language Rights for All
Since 2009, it was the World Federation for the Deaf who made the yearly themes of the Awareness Week/Month, and throughout years, a pattern stressing the importance and recognition of sign language usage can be seen. This is due to the Federation celebrating deaf culture with focus on “Human Rights through Sign Languages”. For this year, the theme is “Sign Language Rights for All,” and the aim is to promote early access to sign language for the DHH, and acquiescence to their right to learn through sign language, access services and products through, or with, sign language, and be comfortable and empowered to use their language regardless of where they are in society and who they are talking to.
As phrased by the World Federation for the Deaf, access to sign language “is a critical prerequisite to the full realisation of human rights for deaf people. 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”.
So for this year, everyone- from the DHH to the hearing- age regardless, and nationalities aside, we’re all challenged to learn Sign Language this year and increase on what we already know. You never know when you will meet someone from the DHH community and it never hurts to have another language under your belt.
Lugha Ishara and Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital: Embracing the Sign
With the understanding of how important it is for the DHH to be able to communicate, especially in order to know, protect, and live by their rights, local organizations Lugha Ishara and Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital (Muthaiga Branch) have organized a fun and interactive DHH and Hearing children’s signing competition this Saturday, September 21st. The venue is at the Children’s Hospital in Muthaiga and the event will start at 9am until 1pm. While registering children (ages 0-10 years) to contest before a panel of judges, family, friends, and caretakers of the children can register as part of the Cheering Teams and participate on the side lines to encourage and interact with the children who are the focus of the entire event. After all, the best time to learn a language and internalize the culture it carries is during childhood. Furthermore, many life-altering conditions can be noticed and/or prevented through early screening from birth or during subsequent monthly vaccinations or check-ups.
Lugha Ishara is a community-based organization with the mission of achieving the transformational development among deaf children through technology-based innovations. They wish to provide a solution to the present limitations in deaf education. It had been noticed that there is a lack of language exposure to deaf children, and hence lower linguistic incapacities in older children and deaf adults later in life. To tackle this, Lugha Ishara is providing affordable, electronic, Kenyan Sign Language materials for early learning while the child is in their formative period of language development (0-5 years old).
If anyone would like to register for the competition, join the fun with or without a child, or simply has questions regarding the event, contact 0734783453.
Let us all take one step this year to understand more about deaf culture in our communities and learn to see that being deaf doesn’t make an unbridgeable difference. They’re no different from the hearing: It’s only a matter of communication and culture uniqueness.
By: Ann Yebei