Sign language is a visual form of communication that uses hand gestures, body language, and facial expressions to convey meaning. Sign languages are not universal, they vary from country to country and they have their grammar and syntax.
The United Nations recognizes the importance of sign language and has made efforts to promote its use internationally. The UN General Assembly has proclaimed September 23 as the International Day of Sign Languages to help raise awareness about sign language and the rights of deaf people.
In Kenya, there are 600, 000 deaf people who rely on sign language as their first language (L1). The language helps them to interact freely with others by expressing themselves. It acts as a bridge that connects us to the world of those who have impaired hearing.
Sign language is a language minority therefore, there is a need to protect the people’s culture and their linguistic identity. The language facilitates learning as well as expanding educational and professional opportunities for people with hearing impairment.
However, the niche for learning in Kenya is unfavourable to them. They lack accessible digital learning materials, and the funds allocated to the schools are very little hence the poor environment.
Most interpreters in these schools are incompetent; they lack the linguistic know-how of the language. This hinders the learners from getting educated. With favorable environment will propel people with impaired hearing to reach the high echelons of their careers and exploit their full potential.
In Kenya, most Television outlets have adopted sign language in television newscasts as it was made a requirement. In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which recommended sign language interpreters to be included in all television newscasts and Kenya ratified this convention in 2008.
Media plays a vital role in the society. Television newscasts ensure that everyone gets access to content aired on TV by employing competent sign language interpreters who interpret on live TV programmes such as news. This guarantees accessibility to information and entertainment for those who have hearing impairment.
Sign language should be adopted in schools to ensure that learners with hearing impairment and other learners interact freely with each other. Moreover, learning this language is advantageous and enables both parties to build relationships, and boost confidence and self-esteem.
The language is also important in children since it provides parents with an insight into their loved one’s world. Parents can gauge their thoughts, feelings and behaviour through gestures and also hand movements. This allows the parents to better respond to their needs. It also helps children remember words and increase their vocabulary since visuals tend to stick to the mind.
The world commemorates this day by highlighting its importance and gearing towards achieving SDGs 10 and 11 which touch on social inclusion; and create a more stable, safe and just society for all. There’s still much to do to achieve these goals; the government needs to expedite the construction and renovations of facilities and equipment, facilitate training for sign language personnel, and create awareness of sign language.
Article by Mercy Mutwol, Intern-AMWIK