The only thing I can’t do is hear.
Marlee Matlin, an American actress, author, and activist who is the only deaf person thus far to have won an Academy Award
The International Week of the Deaf is annually celebrated by deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) communities from around the world. While this event is also known as Deaf Awareness Week, and September is officially coined as “Deaf Awareness Month,” the official title is International Week of the Deaf (IWDeaf). The first celebration of deaf culture and its diverse range of communities was in 1958, at Rome, Italy, by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) on September 23rd. The day, also known as the International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL), was later extended to encompass the last week of September to commemorate the same month the first World Congress of the WFD was held in 1951. The week is a time of increasing public awareness and appreciation of deaf issues, identity, and culture. Activities and events are made by various local, communal, regional, and national groups to meet the intention and encourage hearing and DHH individuals to come together as a community for the educational and celebratory experience.There is focus on involving families, peers, sign language interpreters, and educational, political, and spiritual leaders of DHH individuals. While the International Day of the Deaf is in September, some countries celebrate the Awareness Week in other months.
World Federation of the Deaf’s Week Schedule: A Guide to Consider
Every year the World Federation of the Deaf would declare the driving theme for the Deaf Awareness Week or Month. All are rooted in enabling achievement of human rights and development goals by DHH persons, and for this year, the theme is “Sign Language Rights for All”. 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 emboldened to use their language regardless of where they are in society and who they are talking to.
The WFD has provided a day-by-day schedule for the Week which communities can useto learn about the gaps present in society for various DHH groups, advocate for change,spread awareness onprevalent challenges, and pitch possible changes which can be initiated in their localities. Thus, the sub-themes are as follows:
23nd (Monday): Celebration of Language Individuality and Legal Recognition by Nations
The 23rd of September is the International Day of Sign Languages, so everyone- hearing and otherwise- can challenge themselves to learn sign language, or know more, and understand the importance language access and use to an individual’s capacity to communicate, learn, be empowered, and advocate for themselves. Besides encouraging the use of sign language- and validation of its use as an actual language– nations recognizing Sign Language as an officiallanguage is a goal as it will aid the DHH in obtaining their rights listed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the 2030 Agenda, as well as enabling them to contribute to local, national, and global developmental goals. Such motions will make the currentagenda mottos “Nothing About Us Without Us” and “Leave No One Behind” a reality.
In Kenya, while Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) is slowly becoming popular among the hearing population, it is still perceived by many as “an instruction language” in school and not as an independent dialect. No one seems to use it apart from those related to or interested in the DHH community, those who work in the media and sign language interpretation. With organizations like Lugha Ishara working closely with Gertrude’s Children Hospital to proliferate early access and use of Sign Language among the DHH community, and closely-related hearing parties, it seems Kenya still has ways to go in using KSL as an empowerment tool and barrier-breaker between the Hearing and DHH in society.
24rd (Monday): Educational Inclusivity of DHH Children
The tagline for this day is “Sign Language Rights for All Children”. The scenario is as such: most deaf children are born to hearing parents, and these parents are usually not fluent or aware of sign language. This results in late language exposure and subsequent late cognitive development which, in turn, reduces the chance to acquire language proficiency. 2019’s theme therefore focuses on sign language inclusivity in schools as a verbal and written dialect through which there is bilingual education. The DHH, the hearing, and the caregivers would consequently grow in their Sign Language proficiency as hearing children and their families do over the school years. With exposure to the DHH community mixed with the Hearing in school, at home, and at work, upcoming children and youth will be able to build a healthy and proud self-identity as members of the DHH community without having to compromise themselves culturally or linguistically- that is, having to chose between their Sign Language and other recognized national languages, like English or Kiswahili.
Such a change calls for Sign Language to be considered a national language and made an alternative foreign course option besides French, Gujarati, and others, while teachers are trained to use it so they may communicate with their DHH students; thus facilitating inclusive education. Plus, this will meet the DHH’s right to learn in their language.
25th (Tuesday): Right to Sign Language Access and Usage
Tagline: “Sign Language Rights for All Deaf Senior Citizens”. Ageing comes with the natural deterioration of the body. Some memories fade, stamina drops with flexibility following, and some senses dull. Hearing loss is therefore a common feature that rises in frequency as the population ages. However, institutions or services related to the elderly do not always consider this hence, information barriers arise since there is no access, practice, or use of sign language. Many age in isolation with no awareness that there is an elderly deaf community in a certain community or nursing home. Combating this will avail their right to information and language access, for instance, by providing social services and information in fluent sign language.
26th (Wednesday): Equal Access Rights of DHH with Other Disabilities
Quote: “Sign Language Rights for Deaf-Blind People and Deaf Persons with Other Disabilities”. Hidden disabilities take up a shocking percentage amongst people who already have a first disability and they are not physically noticeable, like deafness. However, considering various states of compound disabilities, we also talk of the extra visible disabilities. All such persons with multiple disabilities including deafness are members of the DHH community, and due to their extra challenges, whether physical, intellectual, or mental, need support accordingly in accessing a sign language environment in education, lifestyle, and any social setting. With language access, deaf persons with disability can live successful, equal, and dignified lives; independent, self-empowered, and able to contribute to society.
27th (Thursday): Gender Equality
With the global gender ratio tipping towards the women, the presumption stands to reason that most deaf persons are women. As cited by the WFD, “Article 6 of the CRPD specifically recognises that women and girls with disabilities, including deaf women, are at risk of being subject to intersectional discrimination”. Due to the vulnerability of women in many societies, explicit focus is placed on deaf women and girls. So on top of enabling increased capacity for the DHH to participate in society, nations and communities are encouraged to let their women rise up in the name of safeguarding equality, security, and increased gender diversity across societal positions regardless of deafness. This is the motion for “Sign Language Rights for Deaf Women”.
28th (Friday): Inclusivity of the LGBTQIA+ Community
LGBTQIA+ stands for a diverse range of sexual and gender identifications across the sexual orientation spectrum. In full, this particular acronym stands means: Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and Others. Similar to the societal plight and struggles women face, the deaf members of the LGBTQIA+ community have to deal with intersecting discrimination due to their self-identification(s) in a world that seems to mostly support traditional binary orientation, gender-wise and sexually- on top of their deafness. Orientation regardless, these individuals are also members of the DHH and are proud of it. As such, including the LGBTQIA+ community in deaf advocacy is encouraged by the World Federation for the Deaf and as well to enable them access to their vernacular as an avenue of self-expression as is their human right. So for all those supporting this demographic of deaf individuals, your motto is “Sign Language Rights for Deaf LGBTQIA+”.
29th (Saturday): Incorporation of Refugees
The last day of the Week focuses on one of the most susceptible groups with the tagline “Sign Language Rights for All Deaf Refugees”. As defined by USA for UNHCR, “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries”.
It is important to remember and support the deaf refugees since they are facing social security troubles while being deaf. This means communication barriers with those around them- more so if their vernacular is not shared with the local sign language. Sign Language is not universal due to local culture, deaf culture, and spoken dialect influence. This means there will be difficulties in accessing information on how things are on their current situation, accessing information in sign language while at camps, facing discrimination as a deaf person, and being marginalized.
The DHH refugees have the same rights as their hearing counterparts and should be considered when interventions are in place while providing healthcare and other social services in sign language so the DHH’s needs and concerns are met. The refugees should also be provided connections to local DHH communities where they can migrate to and ease access to resources and aid as they work on their resettlement. They could become deaf immigrants and join the communities close to them.
So, Kenya, Sign with Us this Week!
Need more be said? Sign Language is Cool! If you are participating in any activity or event related to the DHH community this week, don’t forget to share your campaigns, achievements, support, and experiences on social media with the hash-tags #IDSL2019, #SignLanguageisCool, and #IWDeaf2019 from Kenya- or wherever you may be.
Try starting from the basic ABC’s and chat with your fellow co-workers, friends, and loved ones in the world’s silent tongue.
By: Ann Yebei