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TIME TO STOP AND HEAR The Deaf Community Supports the Hearing Community.


Human Capital

Employment Equity


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

hearing loss.

> 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

language is.

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

different means.

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.

TFM Magazine - Issue 26 - 07 - Time to Stop and Hear
Download PDF • 14.35MB

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