Still a long way to go for South African Sign Language
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.