Sign language dictionary 80% complete, official says

Emmanuel Ndayisaba. / Sam Ngendahimana

As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the International Day of Sign Languages,  the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) has said that the process to produce a new national sign language dictionary has reached the final stages, with an estimated 80 per cent of the work done, an official has said.

The dictionary, which will be the second of its kind in Rwanda, has been in the works since 2014.

The project is being jointly undertaken by National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) and Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD), with support from Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the Executive Secretary of NCPD, said that the research phase ended and experts are now putting the dictionary together.

“The project is now at about 80 per cent. We went to all provinces across the country to collect data, and are now in the final phase of writing” the official said.

Today, September 23, is the annual International Day of Sign Languages, and this year’s theme is “Sign Language Rights for All”.

In Rwanda, the day is being marked in Huye District.

Sign language differs from country to country due to cultural differences.

Ndayisaba noted that the research was aimed at knowing different and common sign languages used by different people in the country, so as to come up with an inclusive dictionary.

The analysis and writing are being carried out by more than 12 people, including ten Rwandans and two consultants from the United States of America, he said.

NCPD says that the dictionary is expected to be published in June 2020.

The 2012 population and household census by the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda (NISR) revealed that there were more than 33,000 Rwandans with speaking and hearing impairments.

Why is the dictionary important?

"We need this dictionary for our advocacy on making sign language an official language to be successful," MP Eugene Mussolini, who represents persons with disabilities, told The New Times.

Activists have been pushing for the recognition of sign language as one of the country’s official languages.

He noted that if it becomes the 5th official language “it will help people with hearing impairments access services like any other person without requiring the help of interpreters, which allows them privacy.”

MP Mussolini reiterated that the Government is willing to make sign language an official language, referring to several other initiatives designed to create an inclusive country.

NCPD explained that the dictionary will be used when preparing a curriculum for schools that offer sign language.

In addition, RNUD said that the first dictionary also needs upgrading as it lacks some essential words.

RNUD says that, since 2012, they have passed on sign language skills to 120 people with no speaking or hearing disability.

These people, it says, help teach others countrywide and provide sign language interpretation services.

Theophile Binama, the sign language training coordinator at RNUD, told The New Times that 14 journalists are also undertaking such training in partnership with UNDP and Media High Council.

In Rwanda, there are five special schools that teach children with deaf disability.

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