The International Week of the Deaf, observed annually during the last full week in September, will be celebrated from 18 to 24 September 2017. This Day aims to draw the attention of governments, authorities and the general public to the accomplishments of deaf people and the concerns of the deaf community.
What is International Week of the Deaf?
International Week of the Deaf (IWD) is an initiative of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). It was first launched in 1958 in Rome, Italy at the first WFD World Congress. Since then, it is celebrated annually by the global deaf community.
IWD is celebrated in different countries in the world. Various activities are held such as marches, debates, campaigns, exhibitions and meetings. Participation and involvement are invited from all stakeholders including: families, peers, governmental bodies, professional sign language interpreters, Disabled People’s Organisations and International NGOs like CBM. This is the only week in a year that sees a concerted global advocacy to raise awareness about the deaf community at individual, community and governmental level. It is about uniting as a global community to promote the rights of deaf people and highlight specific human rights topics that merit attention. Each year sees a new theme. This year is about promoting full inclusion with sign language.
CBM supports Sign Language
CBM employs a number of workers who are deaf or hard of hearing. For deaf employees CBM provides sign language interpreters and / or close captioning as required for visits or meetings (internal and external) according to their individual need. In addition, hearing colleagues are provided with opportunities to learn sign language and Deaf culture sessions. These can be in in house courses, learning from deaf colleagues or attending sign language classes externally.
In our programme work, partners are supported to strengthen the use of sign language through a number of activities. Among these are: providing sign language and Deaf culture courses; supporting deaf associations and develop their leadership skills (e.g. supporting their attendance to World Federation of the Deaf Conferences); provide education to deaf children through the medium of sign language; publishing sign language dictionaries; ensure that deaf boys, girls, men and women understand their rights to access sign language; support to attend BRIDGE Training , providing awareness to families and their communities on the importance of sign language; training for teacher education (deaf and hearing); training for sign language interpreters.
Importance of sign language in education
Acquiring sign language form an early age in addition to spoken or written language has significant benefits for deaf children.
It has become popular practice for hearing parents, particularly those in high-income-countries to attend ‘Baby-Sign’ classes with hearing or deaf babies for some years now. The benefits can be that pre-verbal communication is established between parent / carer and baby from a few months old. There is also evidence that learning sign language can encourage cognitive development in babies and children.
In research carried out at the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (University College, London) it was concluded that deaf adults who had developed sign language from birth had better grammatical judgement in British Sign Language (BSL). Those who reported learning BSL from 2-8 years of age did not reach the same level of understanding. The research drew attention to the fact that learning both a sign language and a spoken or written language will be the most beneficial for children to make the most of their linguistic abilities (Cormier, Vinson 2012).
Having access to a bilingual approach with early sign language communication provides the ground for developing language and communication skills required to support inclusion in school. Early intervention programmes designed to support this approach are an essential first step to enabling deaf babies and toddlers be able to attend inclusive education. It’s also vital that their family members and communities learn to sign. Deaf adults and specialist teachers can play an important role in supporting this approach in the community and in schools. Where deaf girls and boys are included, it is very important that their hearing peers, educators and school staff learn to communicate in sign language. Children who learn to sign together from an early age will have no barriers to communicating with each other as they grow into adults. Access to sign language is a deaf child’s right. It is known to be the best chance that deaf children have of developing language acquisition and communication, along with access to quality amplification aids where available and appropriate. Deaf adults and sign language interpreters can support inclusion by teaching of sign language and raising awareness about Deaf culture.
In memory of Elena Down
This year it is right and fitting that we in CBM celebrate the incredible contribution that Elena Down made to disability inclusion and to raise awareness of the rights of deaf people both within CBM and internationally. Elena passed away on 18th March 2017, whilst flying to Geneva for work. Elena worked at CBM Australia as a Senior Technical Advisor on Disability Inclusive Development. Elena was a deaf person herself therefore understood the needs of deaf people to have access to communication, each according to their need, be that signed communication, close captioning, amplification aids or a combination of all. She will be remembered for the dedicated and tremendous commitment and energy she gave to ensuring those who are often overlooked, have a voice. She was a passionate advocate for people with disabilities, particularly deaf people and cared deeply about the rights of people with disabilities everywhere – especially those who live in poverty in low-middle-income-countries.
In addition to her work with CBM she also worked for a short time with WFD where she served as a Human Rights Officer. There she worked closely with a number of organisations across the globe, not only with associations of deaf people but also other organisations of persons with disabilities.
In her work and personal life she was committed to the concerns and priorities of Deaf Communities. She focussed on and promoted the right of Deaf people to access quality sign language services and the promoting of sign language as a minority language.
Elena was also a committed Christian who had a deep passion for social justice. The tributes she received at her death and memorial service were a testimony to the contribution she made to the lives of others.
'I will always remember our lively discussions and the way she expressed a passion for the rights of others, particularly the right of Deaf people for sign language in all parts of their lives and the particular importance for deaf babies and young children to have access to sign language at home and in school. She and Phillip (another deaf colleague in CBM Australia) always contributed to our work with WFD and IWD. It was not all work, we also shared a love of food, good coffee and good humour. Her spirit will live my heart and in CBM’s work.’ – Sian Tesni, Senior Education Advisor at CBM.