TIME TO STOP AND HEAR The Deaf Community Supports the Hearing Community.
TIME TO STOP AND HEAR
The Deaf Community Supports the Hearing Community.
Nicky Bezuidenhout is the Marketing Manager at eDeaf. Her journey
began 17 years ago while living in the United Kingdom, where she
met a Deaf woman and her husband. Her fascination with their silent
communication encouraged Nicky to interact in a new sphere of
communication, as she had never engaged with a Deaf person
before. Over time her Deaf friend taught Nicky how to use primary
Sign Language. She taught her how to sign the days of the week,
months of the year and family members, including the obligatory
profanities. However, her enthusiasm waned, and she kindly
suggested that Nicky take a part-time Sign Language course.
With her newfound passion for Sign Language, she enrolled in
a course. Little did she know that this would be the beginning of
a journey that continues today.
Following three years of mastering British Sign Language,
Nicky qualified as a communication support worker. In 2013,
she returned to South Africa. As British Sign Language and
South African Sign Language are two different dialects of
Sign Language, Nicky had to go back to basics and adapt
her signing to South African Sign Language. In doing this,
she crossed paths with eDeaf, an organisation specialising
in Skills Development with the core aim of uplifting and
integrating the South African Deaf Community into the
national workforce and DEAFinition. This non-profit
company provides a range of services and funding
opportunities to promote equal access to the
workplace for the Deaf Community.
Did you know …
> More than four million South Africans have varying levels of
> Approximately 1.5 million people communicate in South African
Sign Language (SASL).
> Globally the Deaf community experiences language deprivation
and thus cannot participate in many areas of society.
> The South African Deaf community is a vibrant one that creates
a culture through a common sign language.
> Deafness transcends gender, race and status.
Sign languages are fully-fledged, complex, natural ones with
grammar, vocabulary, dialects and profanities. There are over 140
recorded living sign languages globally.
All living sign languages have evolved organically, like any other
spoken language. Generally, there is not a singular sign language
that is comprehensively understood by all Deaf people . For
example, SASL, British Sign Language and American Sign Language
are entirely unrelated languages; thus, speakers of two different sign
languages cannot easily communicate without interpretation.
Overall, indigenous people and their languages drive much of the
world’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Sign languages make up only
a small portion of this. But the particular diversity that sign languages
exhibit contributes tremendously to the understanding of what
The various dialects of sign languages have taught us that our
capacity for language is independent of any medium. They are
acquired and processed in the brain like spoken languages and
fulfil all communication functions. Yet they do so through vastly
South Africa is unique for many reasons, but diversity is perhaps
the most remarkable distinction. As it stands today, there are 11
official South African languages. Earlier this year, Parliament’s
Constitutional Review Committee approved the Constitutional
Eighteenth Amendment Bill for public comment to amend section 6
of the Constitution to legitimise SASL as the 12th official language.
Its formal introduction is imminent.
As things stand today in South Africa, a person from the Deaf
Community, more often than not, lives in isolation and is deprived
of services and, in many cases, their fundamental human rights.
As the hearing community cannot adequately communicate
with the Deaf community, interaction is often not seamless. For
example, when a Deaf person enters a police station, or has to
navigate a random traffic stop by officers, or enters a hospital
or bank. Essentially without the aid of Deaf employees to assist
them, or access to interpreter services is not adequately provided,
there is an impact on the Deaf person's fundamental human
The Deaf community is the core focus area of DEAFinition, a non profit company that provides services and funding opportunities
to promote equal access. Core to the DEAFinition mandate is
encouraging the hearing community to evaluate their levels of
communication with the Deaf community.
Once SASL becomes an official language, the government must
recognise it across all business sectors and society at large.
Recognition means that the hearing community - collectively
the government, business and society- must integrate SASL into
all public services. For example, a Deaf person entering a bank
will have an opportunity to communicate in SASL either
in person or virtually, so they are independently managing
their financial needs.
The same applies to their health and medical needs. If a Deaf
person enters a police station or is stopped at a random traffic
stop, the government would need to have a mechanism in place
which would enable the Deaf person and the hearing police officer
to communicate adequately.
In a positive light, introducing SASL would encourage the
government and businesses at large to employ people from the
Deaf community to interact with Deaf people using their services.
The ripple effect would be an increase in the employment of
people with disabilities, which would organically help to increase
Employment Equity requirements.
Thembeka Gumede, DEAFinition Director, states, "The
amendment is a positive step towards realising the rights of
persons with hearing disabilities to equal enjoyment of rights
and human dignity. The Deaf community will finally have a
voice and become integral to its country and community. It will
promote inclusion and substantive equality and prevent unfair
discrimination.” Lance Schultz, Chief Executive Officer at PAN
South African Languages Board (PANSALB), echoes Gumede's
sentiment. "The announcement re-affirms the democratic right of
Deaf persons to participate in a meaningful and substantive way
in public life, in their language."
“Once South African Sign Language
becomes an official language, the
government must recognise it across all
business sectors and society at large."
To integrate SASL as an official language, the hearing community must embrace the PANSALB undertakings that include:
Creating an understanding nationally that
SASL is a language in its own right.
The hearing community must respect SASL as a language of choice, with the Deaf community
using it in all interactions and as a primary native language in its own right.
Supporting self-determination of the Deaf
Members of the Deaf community have an inherent right to represent themselves in their lives.
They have the right to privacy, to expect and receive adequate advice, as well as consultation
about their needs.
Promoting learning and high-quality
teaching of SASL.
The hearing community must promote learning, using and having access to SASL to promote
the fundamental human rights of all people.
Encouraging and promoting multilingual
Deaf education for Deaf children.
Multilingual education is a fundamental human right and the main driver of development. To
support cultural diversity, the hearing community must recognise SASL at school level and
across society at large.
Guaranteeing access to services and
information in SASL.
It is important to remove barriers to provide the Deaf community with equal access to
information and services that guarantee full participation, leading to independence in all aspects
of the Deaf community.
Supporting a minimum competency in
SASL for all hearing people interacting
with the Deaf community.
All public servants that engage with the Deaf community must meet the minimum standard of
competency in SASL.
Consulting with local Deaf communities. To ensure services are appropriate for and responsive to the local Deaf Community to promote
accountability and transparency, participatory governance and coordinated partnerships.
Availability of professionally accredited
SASL interpreting and translation services.
Information must be in a format that facilitates communication in a neutral manner between the
Deaf and hearing community.
As SASL becomes the 12th official language, it shifts the responsibility of leading interactions from the Deaf Community to the hearing one.
With SASL achieving its rightful place as an official language, DEAFinition has developed the following to support
the hearing community in its transition:
> A free-to-download app that translates words and specific
phrases on any mobile device to bridge the communication gap.
> An affordable online course that offers a basic introduction to
SASL that includes a Certificate of Completion. The training is self paced, allowing participants to work through the content at their
leisure, as the link to the training is available for a month from
the date of purchase.
In conclusion, everybody needs to be heard and have their
fundamental human rights upheld.