International (MNN) — Sunday is a historic day for Deaf people. It’s the first-ever International Day of Sign Languages, and it kicks off the 2018 International Week of the Deaf.
Rob Myers of DOOR International – a Christian Deaf ministry – says it’s an important step towards the recognition of sign languages as actual languages, not just collections of gestures.
“The desire is to see Deaf people fully included…and the best way to see that inclusion happen is through access in sign language,” notes Myers.
“Only 37 countries recognize sign language as a legitimate language.”
Inaugurating the International Day of Sign Languages
September 23 was recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Sign Languages at the end of 2017. Colin Allen, president of World Federation of the Deaf – the advocacy organization behind IWD – stated the following:
“This resolution recognizes the importance of sign language and services in sign language being available to deaf people as early in life as possible. It also emphasizes the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’ in terms of working with Deaf Communities.”
The ‘nothing about us without us’ principle is also critical to DOOR’s work.
“No decisions should be made about the Deaf community without the input – and, really, the leadership – of the Deaf community,” explains Myers.
“Many times, people are making decisions for them without including them either in the information or in the decision-making process.”
Deaf people aren’t usually given the platform or ability to make decisions, he adds. In some instances, people who can hear “don’t think Deaf people are capable of making those decisions.”
The routine activity of visiting a doctor is another example of why recognizing sign languages is so important. Typically, a child’s parents will explain why they are going to the doctor and what will happen when they arrive. If the child is receiving immunizations, parents explain why the shots are important and they prepare the child for a brief amount of pain.
In most instances, Deaf children lose all of this context and information because their parents do not know sign language. On average, 90 percent of Deaf children are born to parents who can hear, and 85% of those parents choose not to learn sign language.
“The parent just puts them in the car and brings them to the doctor. The doctor does something to them that hurts, and they have no idea why any of this is happening,” says Myers.
Additionally, “if you’re a Deaf person in a country where sign language is not recognized as an actual language, you can’t get an interpreter if you go to the hospital.”
These small examples represent the disconnect and exclusion Deaf people experience worldwide. The International Day of Sign Languages is a step towards bridging that communication gap and acknowledging the Deaf as a people group with their own distinct language.
Translating Scripture into sign languages
The importance of sign language recognition also applies to the Great Commission.
“There are an estimated 350 sign languages around the world…every single one of them represents a Deaf community where that is their primary or first language, their heart language,” says Myers.
“Only 26…of those 350 sign languages have any sort of authorized, published Scripture.”
As a Deaf-led international ministry, DOOR acknowledges the importance of sign language recognition and the “nothing about us without us” principle. Equipping and empowering Deaf to reach the Deaf for Christ is at the heart of everything they do.
“Deaf people are the most effective people to work in Deaf ministry. Therefore, our desire is to empower and equip Deaf to become leaders and providers of ministry,” says Myers.
Header image courtesy World Federation of the Deaf.