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The impact of disability can increase in low income countries where there may be fewer services and trained staff, and exclusive attitudes in society
Read about CBM and Inclusive Development

International Week of the Deaf 2012



An interest in the deaf community in the Gaza Strip was highly emerged with the establishment of Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children in 1992.

Atfaluna, has been working very hard to improve the quality of life of deaf and hard of hearing people  in the Gaza Strip and demonstrated that all the services provided for deaf people were effective and efficient, yet the empowerment of deaf community is not really possible if their language is marginalised or ignored.

[Man is walking through a hospital ward & talking to someone in sign language.]

[He is now standing in front of four colourful paintings which illustrate a sea side town, the beach and the sea. The four painting are a continuation of one another and act as one piece.]

My name is Tom Dick, in the past, there was no interest in sign language; but now, sign language is being taught to hearing people to facilitate the communication between the deaf and hearing communities.

In this way, we can communicate with hearing people without any need for a sign language interpreter to accompany us.

This is why, sign language should be promoted through training to make it possible for healing and deaf to communicate with each other.

[Footage of a school where the teacher is teaching using sign language, the student are responding using sign language as well.]

[Footage shows adult training sessions in sign language.]

[A lady standing in front of a series of photos of children on the beach, starts talking in sign language.]

My name is Abeer Shaghnoubi, I am a deaf teacher and I want to raise the point that sign language must be taught in schools as any other language, in order to reduce the isolation of deaf people and integrate them into their surroundings.

In this regard I want to send my appreciation to CBM and Atfaluna for all their efforts and the same language courses implemented throughout the years to the community members, which facilitated communication between the deaf and hearing communities.

CBM celebrates International Week of the Deaf - the last full week of September - which is an opportunity to promote the human rights of deaf people through events, marches, campaigns and meetings.

Sign Bilingualism is a human right

In 2012, International Week of the Deaf is celebrated from 24 to 30 September. During this week, association of the deaf throughout the world organise events, marches, campaigns and meetings to highlight topics that they wish to be addressed by local or national authorities. The aim is to direct the attention of decision makers, general public and media to the issues and concerns deaf persons face.

This year, the global theme is 'Sign Bilingualism is a human right'. The short video above, from CBM partner organisation Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, highlights the importance of teaching sign language to everybody. This approach facilitates communication between deaf and hearing communities, thus promoting inclusion.

Read more below, including some personal opinions on what this means in reality.

Rose Kwamboka, CBM East Africa Regional Office - "I speak with my hands and listen with my eyes." Read more...

Rose Kwamboka at work with computer ©CBM
Rose Kwamboka
Assistant Inclusive Development Officer
CBM East Africa Regional Office
"There are many reasons why sign language is important. First and foremost, human beings are social creatures and communication is therefore extreme important to us. Without the ability to communicate, we would lose a large part of what makes us human.

"Sign language is a mode of communication for deaf people especially with one another and anyone else who knows sign language. It transcends barriers of communication thus leading to positive consequences for a deaf person’s social life. Deaf people have a fewer means of communication. Communicating through writing is extremely slow, and can be very frustrating. However, sign language is faster and efficient.

"Sign language was created for the use of education. Using sign language in the instruction process enhances learners’ acquisition, comprehension and retention of knowledge. For example, a deaf student in a classroom where a teacher is ill-equipped to meet the special needs of the deaf learner tends to perform poorly compared to a deaf student in a classroom where the teacher uses sign language and understands the needs of the learner.

"Sign bilingualism reflects a more sophisticated understanding of linguistic needs of the deaf children. Its approaches emphasize pupil’s self-esteem, the valuing of deafness and sign language and recognition of the unique and distinctive deaf culture.  

"Despite prejudice against the use of sign language, international researchers have confirmed that deaf communities are linguistic minorities. This calls for attention to the need to recognise sign language as a natural language like English or German or French, and as equal to them."

George O. Osawa, Deaf teacher, Kenya - "With the ability to understand information through instruction in our own sign language, we are able to embark into professional jobs such as computer science, law & teaching at school, college & university." Read more...

two men at a conference, in from of a CBM' poster ©CBM
George Osawa (left), at the World Federation of the Deaf Congress, 2011
"Sign language is a language used by the hearing impaired throughout the World. It is a visual gestural language used by deaf persons in the world. It is also a language that uses manual symbols to represent ideas and concepts.
  • One benefit of sign language mastery is that the child is instilled with a sense of cultural identifies which enables him or her to bond with other hearing impaired children. This then lead to greater self esteem and a curiosity of the world both of which will enrich him/her academically and socially.
  • In academics, if a hearing impaired learner has a strong foundation in sign language, his/her ability to develop  English literacy skills improves.
    It is possible for hearing impaired learners to be literate in both sign language and English through the 'bilingual approach'.
  • Sign language also expands professional opportunities for hearing impaired. In the past, hearing impaired people could only hope to enter skilled or semi-skilled trades such as masonry, tailoring, carpentry, menial work, etc with the ability to understand more information through instruction in sign language. Hearing impaired people are now able to embark into professional jobs such as computer science, accountancy or teaching at schools, colleges or university level, etc.
  • Sign language is also the formation and preservation of social groups among the hearing impaired. Sign language is the mother tongue for the hearing impaired people in Kenya as well as other countries of the world. Competence in sign language as a first language facilitates the acquisition of second language whether signed, spoken or written."

Delphine le Maire, CBM EU Liaison Office - "Thanks to sign language, deaf people have access to communication, access to information, access to education as well as to employment." Read more...

Delphine le Maire ©CBM
Delphine le Maire
CBM EU Liaison Office
"It allows each deaf individual to be part of society as a bilingual and bi-cultural citizen on an equal step with the others.

"Sign language is a rich language that should be valued as a human right across the legislation, political decisions and civil actions. However, many deaf children or adults in the world are not given the chance to enjoy their full rights as bilingual persons because of a lack of recognition of this language. Therefore I believe that sign bilingualism is not an option, but indeed a human right".

Ron Brouillette PhD, teacher, audiologist, and one of CBM’s advisor in the field of hearing - "Sign Bilingualism is a Human Right." Read more...

Two men and a child, talking in sign language ©CBM
Ron Brouillette working with a deaf child and his father in India
"Every UN convention on rights (the Child, Human Rights and Disabled Persons (CRDP) specify that access to one's own language is a basic human right.  Sign language is recognised as a legitimate language (William Stokoe).  It is listed as a national language in several national constitutions including Kenya and Uganda.   The denial of deaf sign language denies users the use of their ‘native’ language. Many leaders of the deaf community would call this is cultural genocide.

"To grasp the importance of sign language it is useful to understand the dimensions of hearing loss. Under the umbrella term ‘hearing loss’ there are the two categories: deaf (or culturally deaf, who depend on sign language) and the 'hard of hearing', who have enough hearing to speak and understand speech. It is important to know that some persons who are deaf can speak somewhat clearly and some persons who are hard of hearing  will use sign language. There is a difference between sign language with a unique grammar and signed language which uses the grammar of the spoken language. Bilingualism uses sign language in conjunction with reading and writing in the spoken  language.

"I have been a teacher of the deaf in primary, high school and pre-primary schools for five years. I have trained teachers of the deaf and built schools and sign language systems for the deaf in Africa and Asia from 1974 to the present. Additionally, I have served CBM since 1995 as an Advisory Work Group on the Education of the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deafblind. As such, I value and encourage signed bilingualism as an essential part of any services provided to serve the community of persons who are deaf."

CBM working in this field

A young girl having her ear examined by a (female) doctor ©CBM
Ear screening at CBM partner organisation Beit CURE Children's Hospital in Zambia
In 2011 CBM, with partners, dispensed (or repaired) more than 16,000 hearing aids and supported more than 18,000 children with hearing impairment in education (an increase of 42% in 2010).

Similarly, there was a 20% increase in the number of hearing impaired people in CBM-supported Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) services, more than 38,000.

A short introduction to CBM

a young woman in a red t-shirt usin sign language ©CBM
CBM is an international Christian development organisation committed to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in developing countries. Learn more...

Learn more about deafness and CBM's work in this field


CBM helped the WHO launch WWHearing, with the aim of promoting the provision of affordable hearing aids and appropriate services


International Day for Ear and Hearing 2012

3 March is International Ear & Hearing Care Day, an initiative to raise global awareness to the prevalence of hearing loss worldwide


Signed communication

Sian Tesni

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Wadud tells of the barriers faced in his life as a deaf man in Bangladesh, and he also has several dreams...


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