Minority status sought for sign language

The organisation says the move would ensure equal opportunity to and also include the hearing-impaired into mainstream.

“Sign language is the most natural way for deaf persons to communicate amongst themselves and also with able-bodied persons,” said Renuka Rameshan, Executive Member of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI), which held its two-day annual conference in Bangalore from Saturday.

“Recognising the language as a minority language would also ensure accessibility to services such as getting pronouncements in courts interpreted for the hearing-impaired," she added.

Experts who attended the conference made presentations on forming the corpus (the pool of words) and other parameters to establish signing as a language, said Renuka told Deccan Herald.

Swamy Anuraganandha, Director, International Human Resource Development Centre (IHRDC) and the Disability department of Ramakrishna University, Coimbatore, said the mainstream system actively discouraged the practice and teaching-learning of sign language for a long time.

"Despite sign language being the most natural way a deaf person can communicate, families and educational institutions wanted them to communicate through other means such as lip reading – which is the most unnatural method of communication,” he said.

Ramakrishna University - which has created the first sign language dictionary - has been working along with the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysore, on the corpus and pilot study of sign language amongst various sections of the deaf community to evolve the essential facets of a working language in order for it to gain the minority language status.

They hope the process would be complete in three to five years.

“Having signed and ratified the United Nation Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD), the Indian government has committed itself to making sign language widely available. Recognition of sign language as a minority language would be a step in that direction,” Arun C Rao, President of ASLI said.

The conference, which had 50 sign language interpreters and members of the deaf community from various parts of the country, also discussed ways of making sign language a professional service, which would encourage individuals to take it up as a career.

“The numbers of interpreters available across the country is proportionately lower than the number of hearing impaired persons in the country, which is estimated to be 10 million,” Renuka said.

Having sign language interpreters in the 25 lakh deaf schools in the country could be the first step towards widening the pool available, they said.

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