Every year, on the last week of September, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) holds its International Week of Deaf People.
This year it is from 24-30 September and its theme is Sign Bilingualism is a Human Right.
I love the fact that this theme has come up. Here in New Zealand it is important as every year we celebrate New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Week in the first week of May, and its aim is to promote NZSL (obviously!) and to show that it is a great language to learn.
According to the WFD website:
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) first launched International Day of the Deaf in 1958; the “day” was later extended to “week.” The International Week of the Deaf (IWD) is observed annually during the last full week of September. The week culminates with International Day of the Deaf on the last Sunday of the week. The 1st World Congress of the WFD took place in September 1951, and the choice of September to celebrate the International Week and Day of the Deaf is a commemoration of this historical event.
The purpose of IWD is to draw the attention of politicians, authorities and the general public to the achievements of Deaf people and the concerns of the Deaf community. During this week, organisations of Deaf people worldwide are encouraged to carry out information campaigns about their work, and to publicise their demands and requests. This week also increases solidarity among Deaf people and their supporters, and is used as a time to stimulate greater efforts to promote the rights of Deaf people throughout the world.
Sadly, in New Zealand, NZSL is not promoted at early intervention, and not even encouraged. There is an organisation in New Zealand that was set up to promote oralism. I will not name the organisation, but they promote themselves as an organisation that teaches deaf children to ‘hear like their hearing peers’. This is a false statement. A cochlear implant does not make you hearing. At the end of the day, the child is still deaf.
Dr Peter Hauser from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the US carried out research on neuroscience and psycholinguistic aspects on deaf and hearing people. He found that there is no evidence to show that sign language interferes with speech or its development. In actuality, it enhances the ability to learn language.
The organisations that I am referring to often view deaf children as broken. Sadly, this is an attitude that can affect the child. All too often, I have seen young people who have no idea of their identity and this can affect them. The child should be provided with a holistic approach – give them everything and they will benefit. There is no shame in having a d/Deaf child. Make every effort to communicate with them in Sign Language as well as spoken languages – it is less exhausting for them and also much less frustrating.
I came across this video that I believe should be shown to all professionals that work in the sector – they should forget about their text books and remember that parents and their children are only human. The child will benefit from this approach and if they are provided with the holistic method, they will grow and benefit greatly, and so will the family of the child.
Please remember, the deaf child will actually benefit from learning sign language – like WFD states – Sign Language is a human right, not a privilege.
I know of some wee children who are implanted and have great NZSL skills – those kids never cease to amaze me and it is so cute watching them sign, and vocalise. Those kids are the future – and they will be able to communicate in either method that suits their mood on any given day. One great video from youtube - of a wee 24 month old girl having a conversation with her mother. I find it amazing!
Don’t rob deaf children of their opportunity to have sign language. Sign Language is something to be celebrated. How often can you have a full conversation under water? How often can you talk to someone in a busy nightclub? How often can you stand on one side of a busy street and carry out a conversation as usual with someone on the other side of the street? How often can you talk to someone through a closed window? The possibilities are endless. Go on, try it out!
This week, go out and celebrate New Zealand Sign Language. Teach others NZSL. Tell everyone about amazing individuals who know NZSL.
I look forward to hearing stories during International Week of the Deaf!