IN the last two years, I’ve interacted more with persons living with disabilities—specifically, persons with speech impairment and hearing impairment. Before we go any further, yes, “dumb” and “deaf” can be offensive and aggressive words to use.
As such, hearing or speech impairment can be used instead. With that in mind, I’ve started to learn some American Sign Language because there is often no medium between my communication with them. I had little to no understanding of sign language. I was also unaware that many people have no formal education on sign language, especially those with impairments who need it to communicate.
To my disappointment, even though I’ve learned basic sign language, I still could not communicate with a lot of persons with impairment. Many persons living with such impairments were never a part of a group or school system that offered sign language. Over time, many of these persons had to develop their own unique ways of recording their thoughts and sentiments. This was such a heartbreaking realisation for me. Sign language has many variations.
It is estimated that there are over 300 different types. American Sign Language is perhaps the most popular form, with over 1 million speakers. This is one of the reasons why I initially thought learning it would’ve been better.
Many parents who have children with hearing and speech impairments also do not know any form of sign language. Sure, there are universal sign languages like making a heart and a peace sign. However, it is an injustice being done to a child when they can’t fully express their emotions and thoughts.
As such, there should be classes available for parents to learn sign language to help their children in return. At least one customer representative or service provider for every office in Guyana should be knowledgeable about sign language. This promotes inclusivity and allows for better communication between persons with impairments and service providers.
Unfortunately, only a selected few are taught structured sign language in special needs schools in Guyana. However, not every child living with a disability attends a “special needs” school. As such, sign language should be available for both private and public schools across Guyana. With more research and development, I am confident that we can achieve a more holistic approach to addressing educational issues for the disabled. This is one way that ensures effectiveness and inclusion.
We should not fail to implement systems to ensure language inclusivity for the disabled. If we do, we fail at ensuring freedom of expression and effective communication for a large portion of our people. I hope this inspires you to learn Sign Language for yourself or to teach others. We must share our knowledge with others—so that they, too, can benefit.
The next time you’re bored, try learning sign language online or joining a class. The next time you’re interested in developing a project for the betterment of others, I urge you to consider persons living with disabilities and Sign Language. We can shorten this communication gap one sign at a time.