Activists want sign language made an official language

People with hearing and speaking impairments during a walk to celebrate the International Day of Sign Language in Kigali yesterday. S. Ngendahimana.

People with hearing and speaking impairments have appealed to Government to include sign language as Rwanda’s fifth official language.

The case was made on Friday when Rwanda joined the world to celebrate in Kigali the first International Day of Sign Language under the theme: ‘With Sign Language, Everyone is Included’.

“Designating sign language as an official language under the constitution would help us easily access public services, be it justice, education, health or elsewhere. It would also help us communicate better with the community,” said Jean Damascène Bizimana, who has hearing and speaking impairment.

He is a resident of Niboyi sector in Kicukiro District.

Collin Allen, the President of World Federation of Deaf, underlined that the Government should consider the demand to scale up the use of sign language for improved social inclusion.

“Every country has its own sign language. You have opportunities to advocate for the inclusion of sign language until Rwanda approves it among its official languages. If the country aims to leave no one behind, sign language too should not be left behind because it is the language of deaf people,” he said.

According to the third Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey 2012, there are some 34,000 deaf people in Rwanda, but Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD) statistics point to 70,000s.

According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 72 million deaf people worldwide. More than 80% of them live in developing countries. Collectively, they use more than 300 different sign languages.

Sign languages are fully fledged natural languages, structurally distinct from the spoken languages. There is also an international sign language, which is used by deaf people in international meetings and informally when travelling and socialising. It is considered a pidgin form of sign language that is not as complex as natural sign languages and has a limited lexicon.

Rwanda is among 48 countries that recently signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Augustin Munyangeyo, the president of RNUD, said that introducing sign language as the 5th language in will bear positive impacts on deaf people in one way or another.

“If Rwandans get to know it, they will be able to communicate with deaf people in their everyday lives, hence accessing public services easily. In this case, it would make them feel more included in society. It is a long process but we can make it happen as long as we treat it as a priority,” he said.

Patricie Muhongerwa, Kigali City Vice Mayor in charge of Social Affairs, said the Government is always ready to support people with disabilities in general, and said the approval of the sign language for deaf people through the constitution is a process.

She said, “The fact that we support the inclusiveness of people with disabilities in general is a sign that we also support their idea to make sign language the country’s fourth official language. But it is a process, we need the dictionary to be completed and wait for the people to learn and master it where it can be used by everyone and we are confident that the process would be a success”

“We need to first wait for the sign language dictionary to be completed and approved, then get the language taught to people and adapt to it so they can efficiently communicate with deaf people. We will continue to work together on this because we do not want to see them feel alone while we are all equal before the law,” she added.

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