National Month of Deaf People
South Africa has a well-established deaf community with more than 4 million deaf and hard of hearing people. The rights of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community should be respected and acknowledged.
Hearing loss makes it difficult for a person to hear sounds in the same way that other people do. Hard of hearing is a more typical term for this. This condition can often improve with the help of a hearing aid. Deaf people communicate by lip-reading or with sign language. With South African Sign Language (SASL) officially recognised as a home language in education, we recognise deaf culture as a fundamental part of South African culture.
There are 3 main types of hearing impairments: conductive hearing impairment (when sound isn’t reaching the inner ear), sensorineural hearing impairment (resulting from dysfunction of the inner ear, the cochlea, the nerve that transmits the impulses from the cochlea to the hearing centre in the brain or damage in the brain) and a combination of the two called mixed hearing loss. You can read more about these 3 different hearing impairments.
Some of the causes of hearing loss include:
- Age: As one gets older, it’s normal for your hearing to deteriorate.
- Noise: Extreme noise is the cause of half of all cases of hearing loss. People living near airports and freeways, are exposed to high noise levels over a period can impact their hearing.
- Genetic: Hearing loss can be inherited. Both dominant and recessive genes exist, which can cause mild to profound hearing impairment.
- Illness: Diseases including measles, meningitis, mumps, and others may harm the auditory nerve. According to reports, up to 64% of infants born to alcoholic moms may experience hearing loss due to fetal alcohol syndrome This is caused by the ototoxic effect on the developing foetus (ear poisoning resulting in damage to the inner ear), plus malnutrition during pregnancy from excessive alcohol intake.
- Neurological disorders: Neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and strokes can affect hearing as well.
- Physical trauma: People who sustain head injuries are especially vulnerable to hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ear), either temporary or permanent.
According to the South African National Deaf Association (SANDA), children should have their hearing tested several times throughout their schooling:
- When they enter school
- At ages 6, 8, and 10
- At least once during Grades 8 or 9, and at least once during Grades 10 to 12.
There’s a shared set of social beliefs, behaviours, art, literary tradition, history, and values within the deaf community. This is referred to as deaf culture, and sign language is normally the means of communication. Deaf people aren’t normally born into the community. Communities can consist of deaf and hearing people.
Daniël De Vaal shares his experience as a Deaf person
Sign language refers to a person who uses their hands instead of their voice to communicate.
If you want to communicate with a deaf person first attract their attention by tapping gently on their shoulder or wave in the air to establish eye contact if they‘re out of reach.
For better communication with deaf and hearing-impaired persons, you can follow these tips:
- Establish a comfortable distance between you and the deaf person.
- Establish eye contact before initiating communication.
- Wait for your turn before signing/speaking.
- Keep the face clear of any obstruction.
- Don’t stand with your back against the light.
You can learn how to sign the alphabet and numbers here.
Rights of deaf people
Due to societal prejudices and wrong assumptions, deaf people’s rights are often overlooked or denied. Deaf people have the same human rights like everybody else, and their rights in the following areas must be acknowledged.
- Sign language rights
- Deaf culture and linguistic identity
- Bilingual education
- Lifelong learning
- Equal employment opportunities
- Equal participation
Read more about the rights of the deaf here.
Student internships and practical work
The National Institute for the Deaf (NID), offers students from different organisations hands-on experience, exposing them to the different services they provide. They gain experience in many areas while working with persons with hearing loss.
For more information contact: