Thursday, 26 Aug 2021
International Day of Sign Languages: CBM Supports the Social Inclusion of People who are Deaf in Cameroon
Worldwide, there is around 72 million deaf people. More than 80 percent of these people live in developing countries where access to medical care and support services is often limited. While there is no universal sign language, more than 300 different sign languages are used around the world.
Under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), all people with disabilities should have “full and equal participation in education and as a member of the community.” To achieve this, the CRPD acknowledges and promotes the use of sign language and obligates States Parties to “facilitate the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community.”
To raise awareness of the important role sign language plays in the realisation of the human rights of deaf people, the United Nations has marked the 23rd of September as International Day of Sign Languages. The resolution acknowledges that early access to sign language and support services is vital to the development and growth of deaf people. It also promotes working with deaf people by emphasising the principle of “nothing about us without us.”
CBM have been working with the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) in Cameroon to make sure that deaf children have equal access to education and are not left behind. This is important because in Cameroon, like many developing countries, deaf children, or those hard of hearing, are often neglected, have trouble communicating with their family, and are either not given the opportunity by their family to attend school or are turned away because the school feels they are unable to support the child.
CBM is working with the CBC to promote sign language and sign language services to improve early access to inclusive education. Che, the Project Officer at the CBC, explained how the project works with community-based rehabilitation workers who go out in the community and identify children who are hard of hearing. He says:
“Usually, when children are identified, you realise they usually suffer from some form of neglect. Why? because their parents have difficulty communicating with them. So, their life is not fully participatory with members of their family.”
This is concerning because for many children with hearing loss, they are not identified until they are around 10 and 11 years old, meaning they have missed out on crucial school years. As Che says:
“When these children are identified, most of them have never been to school, if they have, they have not been admitted into the school because the authorities say it is difficult for them to teach the children. They don’t know how to communicate with them.”
To improve communication, the CBM trains deaf children or those who are hard of hearing and their family members in sign language. To ensure these children are supported at school, the project also trains teachers in sign language and makes sure that exams, sporting events, workshops, celebrations and conferences for example, are disability inclusive. As a result of the support provided, there is now over 100 deaf children in school in the region, compared to around 17 children in 2005. This means more deaf children are now able to read and write – the key to communication and success.
“Many schools did not open their doors to accept deaf children, but there is a gradual change of attitude towards the inclusion of the deaf in education,” said Che.
To support disability inclusion in the wider community, the CBM project also provides sign language interpreters at church, weddings, and conferences for example. It promotes inclusive heath by training staff at the CBC hospital and health centre in sign language and is working towards developing a sign language dictionary specific to the Cameroon language, to be used in schools.
CBM acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).