American Sign Language vs African Sign Language
In June of 2008 I will be traveling to Africa to volunteer in an
orphanage for three weeks. I've been taking an American Sign
Language class and have been wondering if the sign language I am learning is
like what they use in Africa. Through my research I have come to learn about
deaf Africans and even more importantly their rights as deaf citizens in
their country and more largely their continent.
According to an article by International Communications (2008) the ARI
(African Rehabilitation Institute) is trying to create a uniform of sign
language for sub-Saharan Africa. This uniform sign language, they hope, will
make it easier for people that are a hard of hearing and/or have speech
impediments to travel around the continent and be able to communicate.
According to International Communications (2008) people of Africa have been
moving cross-borders more frequently and thus means people who are deaf
and/or have speech impediments are traveling more as well. Sadly, the ARI's
research has shown throughout Africa, many of the countries have their own
type of sign language. Having multiple types of sign languages makes
traveling harder for deaf persons. ARI not only wants to create a uniform
sign language for Africa but wants to create with the help of the National
Associations of People with Disabilities a universal sign language. This
would be amazing. As a hearing student, it is a challenge to learn a new
language fluently enough to communicate. It seems like a universal language
would lessen the amount of communication struggles and errors. If sign
language were universal, deaf persons might be able to relate and have a
larger social network.
In an article by Reagan (2006), the South African Sign Language Research
Programme (SASLRP) was created to produce a dictionary that would “document
actual sign usage of deaf adult in South Africa for use in educational
settings.” The goal of the SASLRP and their dictionary project was to
empower the deaf community. It was able to empower the deaf community
because the dictionary project sought out the opinions and approval of deaf
citizens and also gave jobs to deaf persons. The SASLRP wants deaf citizens
to have the same language and human rights as any other citizen.
An article by Heap (2006) she sums up what my whole learning of African sign
language has been. Heap writes, “As (South) Africa strives to find its way
out of apartheid, the Deaf suggest that it may be possible to begin to
imagine a transforming (South) Africa differently”. Meaning, Africa has been
moving closer to acceptance of differences, especially in the deaf
community. While, there is still not a uniform language for the deaf, it is
a work in progress which shows how much Africa has grown towards acceptance.
Africa seems to be on the cusp of developing a widely shared sign language
and hopefully with their efforts it can happen!
Heap, M. (2006). Sign-deaf spaces: The deaf in Cape Town creating community,
crossing boundaries, constructing identity. Anthropology Southern Africa;
2006, Vol. 29 Issue 1/2, p35-44, 10p. 1Health and Human Rights Division,
School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Health Science Faculty,
University of Cape Town. 28 Apr 2008: http://proxy.lib.csus.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=23180720&site=ehost-live
Reagan, T., Penn, C. & Ogilvy, D. (2006, July). From policy to practice:
sign language development in post-apartheid South Africa. Language Policy,
Vol. 5 Issue 2, p187-208, 22p. Communication & Mass Media Complete. 28 Apr
Unknown Author. (2008, Feb). Sign language for Africa. African Business.
International Communications. 28 Apr 2008: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa5327/is_200802/ai_n24393401
Bret Mackey (on 04/29/08) writes:
Kevin Long has been striving to create non-profit organizations to
help the deaf community. In his words about his non-profit
organization, the first group of U.S. deaf professionals went to
Kenya in 2000 and inspired eight students to enter college. The
program has been so successful that more than 15 countries are
interested in duplicating it, Long said, In the short term, Global
Deaf Connection plans to expand into the Congo and Jamaica, Long
said. "We are probably going to create a new form of deaf education
in 50 countries."
Smith, S. (2002). Fellowship Boosts Education Efforts by Social
Entrepreneur. Minneapolis St Paul Business Journal, Volume 20,
Issue 6, pg 5.
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