Fostering positive communication for everyone | Daily News
International Day of Sign Language today:

Fostering positive communication for everyone

Communication is a celebration of life. It is when we express our thoughts and feelings meaningfully that we can connect to others. We should be prudent and mature when we speak, so that our words enrich and uplift others. The history and evolution of language is amazing. There are thousands of people across the world who use sign language. Being hearing impaired along with few other related conditions make these beautiful humans engage in sign language.

Sign languages are visual languages that use hand, facial and body movements as a means of communication. Sign language is commonly used as the main form of communication for people who are hearing impaired. Sign languages are not just about the use of hands; they are also about the movement of a person’s arms, body and facial expressions. Facial expressions in sign languages can express both emotion and grammatical information. Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) struggle to develop verbal communication. Learning a sign language can be a helpful communication tool for these special children with ASD.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared September 23 as International Day of Sign Languages. The resolution was initially adopted by consensus during the 48th meeting of the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on November 16, 2017 and officially adopted at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly. The resolution was proposed through the Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations, following an original request by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). The resolution was co-sponsored by 97 United Nations Member States and adopted by consensus.

Ambassador Walton Webson of the Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations said: “This resolution is an important milestone in our international promise to leave no one behind. The acclimation of September 23 as the International Day of Sign Languages is a significant step in the universalisation of all communities to recognise the objectives set out in Article 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) to meet our universal goal of inclusion. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda is pleased to be part of this international day that will focus the world’s attention on the principles of the UNCRPD in calling for equality, especially in terms of accessibility, that allows an individual freedom of choice, dignity and independence of self without discrimination.”

As cultured people, we must respect the human rights of all people. The first International Day of Sign Languages was celebrated on September 23, 2018 as part of the International Week of the Deaf. WFD President Colin Allen has stated: “This resolution recognises the importance of sign language and services in sign language being available to deaf people as early in life as possible. It also emphasises the principle of “nothing about us without us” in terms of working with deaf communities.”

The International Week of the Deaf was first celebrated in September 1958 and has since evolved into a global movement of unity and concerted advocacy to raise awareness of the issues deaf people face in their daily lives. The World Federation of the Deaf celebrates its 70th Anniversary in 2021. Whilst significant progress has been made internationally to support and enhance the lives of differently able people, the quality of life for such persons in Sri Lanka needs a more pragmatic approach. Though we have a history of being a caring people, the stains of superstition and social stigma have tarnished the way that we treat differently able persons. Referring to the Deaf and Blind School (Ratmalana) as “golu madama” by the public is a clear sign of segregating and not respecting the hearing and vision-impaired people. This school is professionally operated by the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka since 1912, and has caringly transformed thousands of lives.

Sri Lankans of all religions often associate any physical disability of an infant as a form of divine punishment to parents or some kind of curse. This is absolute ignorance. Very few people in Sri Lanka know sign language. In countries such as America, Australia and England, all malls and customer service related businesses have trained and certified sign language proficient staff. The Anglican Archdeacon of Jaffna Ven. Rev. Sam Ponniah expressed his thoughts: “The Nuffield School at Kaithaddy has been functioning since the 1950s. At present, we have about 200 children. All children are precious to God. We have a responsibility to care for those who are challenged. There is hope for them too. The community must not ostracise hearing and visually-impaired children. Even during the Covid curfew, the teachers at Nuffield School were able to produce learning videos.”

I spoke to Ruba Weerasinghe who has 40 years of teaching experience in primary education. She said: “Every child is a precious flower. It is important that parents monitor a child at home. For the first five years of life, the child is at home. A mother must involve a child in simple activities to observe their hand-eye coordination. Parents can pick up unusual signs. We often find that differently able kids do not make direct eye contact. Some of these dear children have beautiful handwriting but they do not have retaining power.”

“In Sri Lankan culture, most parents do not accept their child’s condition. Instead, they seek relief from a horoscope, which in this situation will not help to rectify the real issue. I encourage parents to lovingly accept their children with hearing impairments and give them the confidence to study, under the guidance of professionally qualified teachers who can guide their precious child. Teachers and parents must encourage these children by emotionally, physically and spiritually supporting them. An atmosphere of love will help the child to blossom,” Weerasinghe said.

Learning sign language enables people to communicate and live independently with dignity. It gives them the opportunity to go out and enjoy life’s moments like everyone else. Sri Lankan officials dealing in this area of responsibility must implement changes to make all sign language users included in society. We need to see more government service staffs who know sign language, along with the temperament to communicate with sign language users. The Sri Lanka Police Department must have at least one sign language qualified officer at every police station. This augments the real essence of Community Policing. Public services such as railways and government hospitals must train their staff in sign language. Japan has set the benchmark by using sign language phones at their airports.

Sign language teacher and counsellor Dinesha Gamage said: “Sri Lankan society, in general, must accept people who use sign language. Children who do not use sign language must learn to accept and play with children who use sign language. Parents and teachers must educate children that all differently able children are special and they have unique talents, which can be nurtured. Every child is valuable.”

I strongly believe that corporate companies can find creative ways to gainfully employ a sign language user, which is possible as demonstrated in foreign countries. Finally, religion must be used to love and accept all people, breaking the ancient chains of superstition and ignorance. The language of kindness and love must reach all people around the world.

American cop using sign language

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