On 28th of October 2021, EUD attended a webinar hosted by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) “Let us teach our sign languages! – Deaf people vindicating their expertise in teaching their sign languages”. The objective of the explore the importance of deaf people taking the lead in teaching their own national sign language with a mix of theoretical and practical presentations from panellists representing the different regions of the world.
The opening address was given by Dr Joseph Murray, who currently serves as Director of WFD, explained that the upon research on sign language, increasingly that the teaching sign language has been conducted by hearing persons and that deaf and hard of hearing persons’ expertise are not being included. Dr Murray highlighted that deaf people have the right to access and use the sign language without fear of oppression. The WFD will present a position paper on the topic of impact of teaching of sign language.
The second speaker at the event was Dr Robert Adam, a Co-ordinator of the World Federation of the Deaf Expert Group on Sign Language and Deaf Studies. Dr Adam presented the overview of the WFD position on sign language. The position included how deaf persons want to be educators in their national sign languages. Dr Adam emphasised that countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should recognise sign language and that deaf persons should be recognised as experts on deaf issues and presented examples of France and Belgium where deaf persons are seen as experts on teaching sign language and deaf issues.
Mr Juventus Duorinaah, a Executive Director of Ghana Deaf Association provided the African perspective on teaching sign language in Ghana. Mr Duorinaah explained that deaf persons in Ghana came together to safeguard their deaf rights which included the teaching Ghanaian sign language. The support for Ghanaian sign language curriculum was aided by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD) and the Disabled Persons Act, Mr Duorinaah explained as the two tools enabled the deaf community to receive funds and support in setting up programs and training to teach sign language. The result of this advocacy led to a creation of the working curriculum dedicated to teaching and interpreting sign language and led to expanse of learning sign language with universities across Ghana offering sign language courses.
The third speaker was Nguyen Tran Thuy Tien, a Executive Director of Psycho-Education and Applied Research Center for the Deaf (PARD) located in Vietnam. PARD is the first deaf led research centre and NGO in Vietnam, with the aim of empowering deaf people to communicate in sign language and to train deaf leaders and develop sign language research in Vietnam. Ms Nguyen Tran Thuy Tien presented the barriers facing deaf persons in Vietnam which included educational barriers as among the 30 Deaf schools, only 30 deaf persons have a Bachelor of Arts nationwide. Another barrier Ms Nguyen Tran Thuy Tien recalled was a lack of collaboration between the National Associations of the Deaf and the national governments as the Ministry of Education developed a book dedicated to their national sign languages. This action was taken without the support or collaboration with the deaf community in Vietnam. As a result, the Minister of Education asked PARD to develop the Sign Language dictionary. Ms Nguyen Tran Thuy Tien concluded her presentation citing that sign language is the only accessible language for deaf people and deaf people should be frontline teaching it. .
Ms Carla Caussin Poppe, the Vice-President of Federacion Boliviana de Sordos FEBOS addressed the need to create networks of deaf people who are teaching sign language. Ms Poppe explained that in recent years people who are hearing have been taking over the role of teaching sign language to deaf persons and children, that deaf people are at risk of being marginalised. The final speaker of the event, Dr Octavian Robinson – Professor at Gallaudet University explained that language is power and can open doors as it provides access to employment, education, culture and other areas.
In conclusion, this was an exceptionally informative event with different national perspectives on the application of teaching sign language. The CRPD specifically states to ensure professional interpreter services, and guarantee education to deaf people in their sign language. EUD believes that it is crucial that hearing teachers teaching deaf learners, even in collaboration with a signing co-teacher, know sign language to ensure that deaf children can achieve their fullest possible social integration and individual development.