Signs of change: Deaf people should never be lost in silence

Once someone told me to close my eyes to open my ears, for some this is impossible to do.

Being Deaf means having the inability to hear anything or being unable to hear well. Most people don’t know this but September is the National month for Deaf People.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much help from government. According to the Provincial Director of Deaf S.A., Judith K. Madi. “ Our government has catered to deaf persons by providing reasonable accommodations (providing S.A. sign language interpreters) when in meetings even though our government still hasn’t done as much for the Deaf community in matters of employment, education meaning in all areas etc.…even having S.A. sign language becoming official is being delayed for unknown reasons” she says.

Shamila Surjoo, Director of KwaZulu Natal Blind and Deaf Society said “People who are deaf are not understood when they visit hospitals, clinics, etc. where their privacy is violated as they to take a family member along with them to communicate with the doctors and nurses. These staff don’t know SASL, there are times when the message is miscommunicated to the Deaf patient as family members also doesn’t understand SASL” she explains.

I have never seen people who are hearing impaired or deaf working in stores or restaurants, I wondered if there was even a job market for them.

Director Surjoo explained that the job market has made space for the deaf community but the space is too little to have impact among deaf community members.

She said “This is based on the fact that:

  • There are many are many industries where people can be productively engaged and excel. However, decision makers in the job market, particularly individual companies are not receptive and not prepared to hire deaf people. A few companies that have taken a step in in employing them allocate menial tasks with less opportunity to develop and grow professionally.
  • The gap between policy and implementation is vast. Most companies have disability or inclusion policy that is well defined on paper. The problem is putting the policy into practice and enforcing it. This is due to factors such as lack of awareness on how to recruit deaf people, communication barrier and general fear of being politically wrong. Thus job applications of many people are simply ignored. Nevertheless, the legislative framework to support employment of deaf people with disability in general is progressive” she explains.

The greatest issues facing the Deaf community that both directors mentioned are accessibility, barriers to communications, education and employment.

Director Surjoo explained that employment is still a huge challenge for persons who are Deaf and that KZN Blind and Deaf Society has a Job Placement Officer who is responsible for finding job opportunities for persons who are Deaf.

In my experience because of the inaccessibility of learning sign language for the hearing this has created barriers between the hearing and non-hearing individuals.

Director Madi said “It has created barriers, the hearing really need to start learning sign language because sign language is part of languages like any other language we have here in S.A. I notice it is the attitude problem that causes the hearing not to learn the language.”

When speaking about sign language becoming a 12th official language this is what they had to say.

Director Surjoo says “most importantly, I think that our government should recognise South African Sign Language as our 12th official language. This is taking far too long to become official.

As you rightly state, the communication barrier between the Deaf and hearing persons is a huge problem faced by every person who is Deaf as nobody understands their language.”

While Director Madi said “I believe that sign language will be an official language in the future though S.A. government is moving slowly as they are currently busy with the Constitution review”.

According to the President of the KZN Blind and Deaf Society, Justice Yacoob “It is a human right of every person who is Deaf to be able to communicate – to understand others and to be understood.”

We all need to communicate with each other. Imagine how lonely it must be when you don’t understand what the people around you are saying and no one understands what you are trying to say? This is how people who are Deaf feel, around those who don’t understand SASL” he explains.

This isn’t just a month to acknowledge the hearing disabled but to take note of the biggest struggles the Deaf community are facing. When you think the world around you is getting too loud, think about what it means to be able to hear.

Divani Coopoosamy

I’m a journalist, keeping up to date with what’s happening in the world. Writing is in my blood and a Journalism & Digital Media studies student at Rosebank College.

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