Bright future for SA Sign Language
Over 60 individuals and organisational representatives attended a South African Sign Language (SASL) seminar held in Cape Town on 27 November 2014. The event was convened by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) and the Western Cape Language Committee (WCLC) to consult with Deaf organisations and other stakeholders about how to best serve the needs of SASL users in the province. Provincial government departments, NGOs, Deaf schools, tertiary education institutions and language practitioners were represented at the event.
Minna Steyn of the Western Cape Education Department said SASL will be taught as a first language in schools for the first time in 2015. The programme was piloted at the De La Bat School for the Deaf in Worcester and will be rolled out in South African schools over the next four years. From next year, SASL will be taught in the foundation phase (Grade R to Grade 3) and first language bridging education will take place for Grade 9. The first Grade 12 learners with SASL as a first language will matriculate in 2018.
A panel discussion on the status of SASL in the Western Cape was addressed by representatives of Sign Language Education and Development (SLED), the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) and the National Institute for the Deaf (NID).
Head of Department Brent Walters committed DCAS to learning from stakeholders about how to improve its support to SASL in the Western Cape. Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport Dr Nomafrench Mbombo said that, as an isiXhosa-speaking person, she knows how important it is for people to claim their language rights. “Language is about identity. We in the mainstream have more voice because we have advantage of hearing. Fight for your space to be heard.”
Key concerns raised during the discussion included “nothing about us without us”, i.e. the need for Deaf people to represent themselves and their interests. Participants insisted that Deaf representatives should be consulted on all matters affecting Deaf people. They said it should be accepted that only Deaf organisations have the credentials to train, accredit, mentor and monitor SASL interpreters. Participants also said that Deaf people should be given preference over hearing people for training and employment in appropriate fields, e.g. SASL teaching and interpreting. A key call from the floor was for the provincial government to support the push for SASL to be recognised as an official language of South Africa.
The outcome of the seminar will inform the Western Cape Government about the best strategic ways of serving Deaf communities in the province. DCAS Language Services and the WCLC will champion SASL support services for the provincial government. Through supporting the language rights of the people of the Western Cape, we can all be better together.