Sep 2020 2nd edition

Sign language given a boost

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

The lives of deaf people in South Africa are being made a bit easier through improved communication. 

South African Sign Language (SASL) is set to be standardised, following the launch of the SASL Charter.

The charter addresses inconsistencies in the use of sign language and ensures that sign language interpreters have the right skills.

Devised by the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), the charter aims to address issues relating to communication, access to information and facilities as well social justice for the deaf community. PanSALB’s Acting Executive Head of Languages Nikiwe Matebula says the charter will ensure that interpreters used in public service gatherings and events are competent in SASL. 

Matebula says: “As part of this charter, whenever we procure sign language services, it should be in consultation with the Deaf Federation of South Africa.”

With South Africa marking Deaf Awareness Month in September, the charter forces all government departments and state entities to provide interpreting services to deaf people by training essential services staff in advanced SASL. 

According to the PanSALB Board Chairperson David Maahlamela, the charter is based on the ‘nothing about us without us’ disability movement. 

“The launch of the charter is a giant stride towards ensuring the officialisation of SASL as the 12th South African official language,” he says.

The charter calls for the availability of competent interpreters at government service points like police stations. The charter also calls for:

  • Nationwide recognition of SASL.
  • The promotion of learning in and about sign language.
  • Consultation with the deaf community on all matters about them.
  • Ensuring that all those working with deaf people are fit for the job.
  • Sufficient multilingual education for deaf children.
  • Guaranteed access to services for deaf people.

“Being deaf should not be a hindrance when they try to access services,” says Matebula.

Speaking at the launch of the charter, Deputy Minister  in The Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Hlengiwe Mkhize said: “We must ensure that SASL is a right that people can access.”

The charter is available in video format. 

For more information, visit PanSALB’s website or visit one of the organisation’s provincial offices. 

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