In this series, we will be unpacking and explaining our organizational model. To start off, we're going to talk about Promoting Swazi Sign Language (SSL) Development and Use.
At Deaf Open World, our goal is to provide better educational opportunities to deaf students. Unfortunately, right now there are not many of these kinds of opportunities because emphasis has not been placed on supporting the advancement of SSL. Limited opportunities are due to a number of barriers and challenges, including, but not limited to, the following:
Many people, including hearing parents of deaf children and educators, do not know Swazi Sign Language or do not teach it properly, thus limiting early language acquisition and cognitive development
Deaf children generally do not enter the education system until a late age and therefore are behind in their studies and often left out of social groups
Deafness is looked at as a hinderance rather than an obstacle that can be overcome
Although SSL is an official language recognized in schools by the Ministry of Education and Training, it is not an official language of the country, and is therefore not necessarily considered in formal policy
No formal SSL curriculum has been adopted by the primary school for the deaf, nor is SSL recognized as its own subject
In order to achieve #1 in our organizational model, it is important for the country itself to be united in it's view of deafness by looking at deaf individuals as part of a community with their own unique cultural norms and language. It is extremely important and valuable for all students to be able to fully express themselves, communicate, and explore a variety of topics in their education. Hearing children have a huge advantage when it comes to these variables, and deaf children are limited in their abilities to reach these goals. There is also a very large language barrier between the deaf and the hearing, making education for deaf children even more difficult. Deaf students should not be limited in their education because hearing people only feel comfortable expressing and therefore teaching certain material. Without SSL being formally adopted into the academic curriculum and valued as its own subject in the formal education system, the need to improve and develop SSL will never be emphasized.
Imagine if a person fluent in French, and only having a rudimentary knowledge of English, taught all of your classes in school. How would you feel? How would it affect your ability to learn? To communicate with your teachers and with your peers? Would you be frustrated or discouraged? Would you feel valued by your teachers and your peers?
These are just a few of the many questions and challenges deaf students face every day. All they want is their fundamental right to an education.
Through recognizing SSL as a language in its own right, we're also recognizing and valuing the deaf identity and saying that there is space for deaf people to contribute - and that their contribution matters. We no longer want the deaf community to feel devalued, unintelligent, or silenced. We want change. Do you?