Officially recognise Indian Sign Language #HumanRights
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India is home to the largest deaf population in the world, approximately 18 million people. [i] Communication is a basic human right; however, it is one of the biggest challenges for the deaf community in India.
Everyone needs access to a language – to communicate, to study, to learn, to progress, and to express oneself. However, in our country, Indian Sign Language (ISL) is neither uniformly practiced nor taught as a language for communication & education. Most schools for deaf people still follow oralism. The oralism methodology of teaching impairs the future prospect of deaf children as it focuses on speech rather than sign, which in turn leads to the deaf people not gaining much knowledge in their growing up years. In the absence of a recognised language, deaf children have no access to proper basic & higher education. Moreover, signs within India differ from place to place and person to person. In the absence of a standard and recognised language, it further makes communication difficult even between deaf people from different places, let alone between people with and without hearing impairment.
99% of people with hearing impairment in India do not even pass class 10. [ii] They lack information resources of all kind. As a result, deaf people face multiple problems when it comes to social interaction, language and daily communication, education, mental health, access to financial, legal & medical services, safety measures, entertainment and information & technology, etc.
There are only 250 interpreters for a population of 18 million deaf people in India. This means that there is only 1 interpreter for 72,000 people. [iii]
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 talks about accessible education, ensuring that people with hearing impairment can have access to television programmes with sign language interpretation or sub-titles, equal opportunities in education and employment. The setting up of Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) by the government has been a step in the right direction too. However, without a recognised language how will all of this turn into reality?
My younger sister is deaf since birth. I feel helpless when I fail to communicate all my thoughts & feelings with her and talk with her as I do with my other hearing siblings. She studied in a school that used the oralist training method and we never got a chance to learn the language that could have enabled us to communicate freely with her. It is extremely important for family members of a deaf child to know sign language to bond with the child, failure to this can lead to serious complexities, lack of trust and understanding in their relationship.
Once Indian Sign Language gains official recognition, there will be enhanced efforts to propagate and develop it. This can also result in the society having a choice to learn the language, even as a separate language as a part of one’s educational curriculum. I think sign language should rather be taught to all children in every school to bridge this huge gap of communication between people with and without hearing impairment. There are many other amazing benefits too of learning sign language for hearing people.
The recognition of ISL as a language is paramount to enable equal opportunities and a life of dignity to people with hearing impairment in our country. Several countries such as Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Sri Lanka, Thailand, UK, USA, etc. have officially recognised the respective sign languages of their country.
Hence, I hereby appeal to the Government of India to take another proud step forward towards inclusion and officially recognise Indian Sign Language as the 23rd language of our great country.
Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. Let us all participate in building a more inclusive and progressive nation for each one of us.
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