Friday, 15 July 2011

"Sign Language Interpreting in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from a Deaf user Perspective" - Hend Al-Showaier

Hend is from a research center in Saudi Arabia and she is presenting on a deaf persons perspective on interpreting in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia signed in 2008 the UNCRPD.

Not much research has been conducted in the Arab world on sign language interpreting. Some dictionaries have been published in the last few years. At the same a marginalisation of deaf people has been taken plance.

AFOOD (Arab Federation of Deaf People) has been working in the 22 Arab nations to improve the situation for deaf people in the Arab nations. Sign languages are all different in the Arab world, and also have different dialects and cultures. Because of the variety of signed languages they suggested a singular sign language system in the Arab world. AFOOD, which is run by hearing people, approved this project. The goal was to establish easy access for deaf people in the Arab world, such as the interpreted news.

The first aim of the project was to publish a dictionary, but deaf people had no say in it. This was approved in Qatar and deaf people in the Arab world were told to use this sign language. The philosophy behind it was that if the Arab world used one spoken language, there should also be one sign language. But at the same time no one understood Arabic.

Sign language interpreting started, as in many other countries, as volunteers. The ministry of Education opened two schools for the deaf: one for women and one for men. But there are no training programmes in Saudi Arabian Sign Language, so the teachers had to learn this as they went along.

The government created a new job definition of sign language interpreters, so interpreters could be used on tv as well. Saudi Arabia set up a committee in June 2006 on experts of sign language interpreters, but these were not deaf persons or interpreters. Hend points out that she does not agree with this committee. They have for example a language policy that states to use total communication. The problem is that they believe that there is on international sign language and promote this idea as well.

Hend works at the Prince Salman Center for Disability Research ( We provide training on a variety of topics by national and international presenters. So people can learn from experts and bring this back to their local area. In 2008 we are offering workshops in Saudi Arabian Sign Language which are very popular.

In May 2010 Liz Scott Gibson came to the center and presented a workshop on sign language interpreting. She was also interviewed on national tv on this workshop. Unfortunately interpreters still wok on a voluntary basis and they have no code of ethics.

Hend ended her presentation by showing a video made by a group of deaf persons in which they state their complaints about the situation of sign language interpreters in Saudi Arabia.

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