Thursday, 14 July 2011

WASLI conference officially opened!

Deb Russel, new WASLI president, opened the conference introducing briefly the guests of the opening ceremony:
  • Nomvuzo Shabalala (Deputy Mayor of Durban / eThekwini)
  • Liz Scott Gibson (former WASLI President)
  • Markku Jokinen (WFD President)
  • Bruno Druchen (National Director, DeafSA)
  • Colin Allen (Director of Services, Deaf Society of NSW, Australia)
After the country call, calling all participants by country. The Deputy Mayor Mrs. Shabalala gave her opening speech. She quoted Nelson Mandela: "If you talk to a man in his own language that goes to his head, if you talk to a human in his own language it will go to his heart"

We have a language policy in South Africa: there are sign language interpretation at all important council meetings, because it is important to empower the citizens. An important day for us is Monday 18th of July when we celebrate Nelson Mandela's birthday..

Liz Scott Gibson then introduced Markku Jokinen, WFD president. She pointed out that she has enormous respect for Markku. Markku has supported WASLI for many years and the developments of sign language interpreters internationally.

Markku commemorated that WASLI and WFD signed the common agreement in 2007: "Not only is that a formal agreement our hearts are in there as well." Markku continued with explaining the importance of the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Until now 100 countries have ratified the UNCRPD. But not only is it important that WFD and deaf people use the UNCRPD, but als the interpreters must use this as a tool. "For the first time the UN is now hiring sign language interpreters and are asking us for advice. We must use this opportunity and use the tools that the UNCRPD gives us."

Markku finished by saying that the WFD general assembly is expecting 85 countries, of which 30 are African countries and the congress is expecting 2000 people.

The new WASLI general secretary, Awoii Patrick Michaeal, introduced Bruno Druchen by thanking Bruno for all he has done for sign language interpreters in South Africa. Even though there is no association for sign language interpreters Bruno has given a lot of support in organising the WASLI conference.

Bruno Druchen welcomed all participants to South Africa. He commemorated that this is the second time that WASLI is in South Africa. The first time in 2005 when WASLI was established in Worchester near Cape Town. He pointed out that as a deaf association we can not work alone. We work together with other deaf associations, but also with WFD and WASLI. Such as in Lesotho where they worked on a human rights project and how to educate deaf persons in the best way on this topic. And how interpreters and deaf persons can work together. Following Lesotho they went to Mozambique, where they had problems with how to work with sign language interpreters since there is no association for sign language interpreters there. The Deaf Association South Africa then supported them in this.

Bruno continued by saying: It is essential that the deaf association cooperates with the interpreter association, that is the only way to go forward. We must educate ourselves and others on how to work best together. Deaf persons need to understand that interpreting is not advocating. Interpreting is hard work in itself. It is important that deaf persons and interpreters are both educated on what the role of the interpreter is.

Zane Hema, former WASLI secretary, then introduced Collin Allen, keynote speaker. When doing some background research Zane found that Collin has such an extensive list of achievements that it was impossible to sum it up in an introduction.

Collin Allen, was then invited to commence his keynote speech. Collin Allen started by saying that Deaf people need the UNCRPD because the current human rights are not reaching persons with disabilities. There is also a paradigm shift from a medical to a human rights model of disability. 

The UNCRPD came in to place through a whole process. There were first 8 ad hoc sessions from 2002 till 2006. They would take days to discuss all the issues at hand. In addition, the WFD met with different representatives throughout the world to discuss the issues especially in regard to deaf people and the use of sign language.

As of 8 July 2011 there are 149 signatories to the convention. And till today 102 of those have ratified the convention. Sign language is mentioned 8 times in 5 different articles.

After explaining the UNCRPD, Collin Allen continued with explaining an international project he is involved with. The goal of this global project is to collect information about the lives of deaf people in various countries. The survey was provided in several languages, including international sign. In many countries the use of sign language is forbidden which is worse for their educational situation. There are also deaf people throughout the world who have no idea that they have human rights. The project collected information from seven different regions: Mexico, South America, Eastern South of Africa, Western and Central Africa, the Arab nations, the former Sovjet Union, the Asia Pacific. This was published in seven different reports, which gave valuable and up to date information on the country. The information from the reports were then summarized and brought it together in one document. This was mostly worked on by Hilda Haualand from Norway.

The document covers information from 93 different countries. We found in the report four different overlapping areas that are central in human rights for deaf people: the need for sign language, the need for a bilingual education (written and signed language), the need to access information through sign language interpreters and to have professional trained sign language interpreters.

Of the respondents only 44 recognised sign language and 49 have not done so until today. Of the 44, 10 countries have sign language recognised in their constitution, 19 in some kind of legislation. Still there are over 100 countries in the world who did not recognise sign language until today. So now countries can use the UNCRPD to lobby for sign language recognition. Sign language dictionairies can help in getting this recognition.

In article 9 of the UNCRPD professional sign language interpreters are mentioned. But depending where you are in the world the word 'professional' has different meanings. For us in WFD it means that you have completed a training and that you are qualified.

A total of 80 countries responded they have professional sign language interpreters. But only 43 countries replied that there was a qualification system in place in their country. In regard to training only 9 countries have a 4 year training programme, 11 countries have less than a one year training. And only 32 countries fund sign language interpreter services and 33 have a code of ethics. We must be working together: deaf and interpreter associations.

From the international perspective, now to more national examples.

In the 1950s there was the Communist Regime, so the first deaf school did not open till 1963. In1990 the communist regime collapsed and in 1996 the Finnish Association of the Deaf wanted to establish a project. This did not come into place till 2000 because of the financial scheme collapse of Albania in 1997. This project was to support deaf people in Albania to lobby for their needs. When deaf people realised their rights, such as signing on the streets, they became more aware and used these rights to develop more projects. Following the research on sign language in Albania, a training for sign language interpreters could be established.

Another example is from Cambodja. In 1997 the first deaf school was established and in 1999 the Basic Education Project and Sign Language Work started. In 2004/5 the sign language interpreter training project was established. In 2010 the first 8 interpreters qualified and last year a sign language service was set up.

The war ended in Kosovo in 1999 and in 2001 the Finnish Association of the Deaf and Kosovar Working Group decided to establish a project.  A sign language network and interpreter training project were established. In 2008 the Kosovar Association of Sign Language Interpreters was established. Since 2010 they have 7 certified interpreters, but there are 25 to 30 interpreters working. Now there are also 17 deaf sign language instructors working.

The WFD has a policy on how to cooperate with other countries in setting up for example a deaf organisation. Setting up a deaf organisation will help in many ways such as the recognition of sign language in the country.

WFD thinks it is vital to recognise sign language and respect the deaf culture and identity. In addition, bilingual education, accessibility and sign language interpretation. These four factors must be implemented otherwise the human rights of deaf people cannot be maintained.

There is still a lack of sign language interpreter training, and this means that deaf people cannot enjoy basic human rights. Collin's message is not just to think globally but also to act locally. It is important to make the link between the local and the global context. This can be achieved by unity: deaf and interpreter associations must work together to achieve global development and local action. Unity between the deaf and interpreter community is one of the keys to accessibility.

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