Still a long way to go for South African Sign Lan­guage

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - HEALTH - BULELWA PAYI

AS THE world cel­e­brated In­ter­na­tional Week of the Deaf last week, Western Cape Deaf SA direc­tor Jabaar Cassiem Mo­hamed ap­pealed for the in­clu­sion of deaf peo­ple in ev­ery sphere and recog­ni­tion of their rights.

The an­nual week is cel­e­brated world­wide, with this year’s theme call­ing for “Full in­clu­sion with sign lan­guage”.

Mo­hamed is spear­head­ing the recog­ni­tion of and in­clu­sion of deaf peo­ple into all spheres of so­ci­ety, ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and for SA sign lan­guage in­ter­preters to voice their thoughts and views. He strongly be­lieves in deaf peo­ple tak­ing up their cause and ed­u­cat­ing those who can hear.

“Sign lan­guage is beau­ti­ful and there are ef­forts to make it an of­fi­cial lan­guage in the coun­try. I would en­cour­age peo­ple to learn it,” Mo­hamed told me through signs voiced by a SA sign lan­guage in­ter­preter.

In a coun­try faced with a high un­em­ploy­ment rate, the 1.6 mil­lion hard-of-hear­ing and deaf peo­ple find it more dif­fi­cult to find em­ploy­ment.

Mo­hamed counts as one of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s achieve­ments the abil­ity to con­vince com­pa­nies to em­ploy deaf peo­ple.

“We have over 1000 peo­ple on our data­base and my job is to ap­proach com­pa­nies to ex­plain how deaf peo­ple could add value to their busi­nesses.

“Be­cause of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, some of them could not go on to higher lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion but they can still do cer­tain types of work,” he said.

When the Park Inn by Radis­son Cape Town New­lands opened, it had a deaf and hardof-hear­ing staff com­ple­ment of 30%.

Twenty six per­cent of staff at the ho­tel are deaf or hardof-hear­ing, with some hav­ing been trans­ferred to Radis­son Blu Le Ven­dome in Sea Point or two of the ho­tel’s lat­est ad­di­tions, one in Polok­wane and the Radis­son Blu Ho­tel & Res­i­dence, Cape Town.

In to­tal, the ho­tel group has about 41 deaf and hard-of-hear­ing staff mem­bers in its South African prop­er­ties.

And ac­cord­ing to Mo­hamed, South­ern Sun Ho­tel, New­lands, has also re­cently em­ployed five deaf peo­ple.

“Our strat­egy is to get more com­pa­nies and in var­i­ous sec­tors to em­ploy deaf peo­ple. If this can be done in Cape Town, it can be repli­cated in the rest of the coun­try,” Mo­hamed said.

Other pro­grammes close to Mo­hamed’s heart in­clude de­vel­op­ing an ed­u­ca­tional guide that has been im­ple­mented in schools for the deaf, but could be used at schools for those who can hear.

“We need to build part­ner­ships to in­clude deaf peo­ple and make the work­places more di­verse. But deaf peo­ple should also take it upon them­selves to press for ac­cess to an SA lan­guage in­ter­preter when they go for in­ter­views or pre­sen­ta­tions. Of course they will not do the work for the deaf per­son, they will merely voice what the deaf per­son is say­ing.”

Mo­hamed said about 80% of the South African pop­u­la­tion did not know sign lan­guage.

Silent Walk is an ini­tia­tive started four years ago in which peo­ple who can hear are taken on a walk for be­tween 20 to 30 min­utes with earplugs in to get a feel of what is like to be deaf.

Deaf peo­ple can com­mu­ni­cate in sev­eral ways, such as lip read­ing, ba­sic sign lan­guage or writ­ing down their thoughts.

Mo­hamed said to en­sure in­clu­sion it was im­por­tant to treat deaf peo­ple with re­spect that showed they could do their jobs and not to use of­fen­sive terms.

And to as­sist in in­creas­ing aware­ness about the deaf com­mu­nity, Park Inn by Radis­son Cape Town New­lands is con­tin­u­ing its ini­tia­tive, #Sign­tem­ber, which teaches guests and so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers the ba­sics of sign lan­guage.

“We are con­stantly try­ing to raise aware­ness around deaf cul­ture, so­cial norms and is­sues and found #Sign­tem­ber to be a fun and en­gag­ing way to do so, ” said spokesper­son Clin­ton Thom.

Hear­ing aids can help deaf peo­ple.

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