The hearing-impaired are set to receive renewed attention
To mark World Sign Language Day, Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Qabbaj inaugurated on 23 September the Egyptian Initiative to Eradicate Sign Language Illiteracy. The plan is being carried out in cooperation with the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, the Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development, and the She Can Foundation.
According to Al-Qabbaj, statistics from the World Federation of the Deaf show there are 70 million deaf people around the world, 80 per cent of whom live in developing countries, and who use more than 300 sign languages. Their number in Egypt is 4.2 per cent of the total population, according to statistics from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.
Law 10/2018 regarding the rights of persons with disabilities recognises those with hearing disabilities among the categories of persons with disabilities protected under the law, Al-Qabbaj said.
She explained that the ministry, in partnership with other NGOs, provides various rehabilitation services for people with hearing disabilities and slight hearing disabilities, including training services in communication, education, and work, especially in printing, carpentry, and leather making.
They also provide guidance programmes for families of people with hearing disabilities as well as community awareness sessions.
According to Al-Qabbaj, the campaign will provide 1,000 hearing aids and 1,000 mobile phones to deaf students and those with slight hearing impairments to facilitate their integration into the educational and professional environment.
The electronic platform for training and employment, ta’heel (rehabilitation), has also been launched, in partnership with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and the Ministry of Labour with the aim of helping persons with disabilities search for job opportunities that conform with their disability and academic qualifications and integrates them into the labour market.
Sign language is being taught to staff members working in rehabilitation offices in some governorates, in partnership with the National Council for Persons with Disabilities and the German Hanns Seidel Foundation.
Coordinator of the Egyptian Initiative to Eradicate Sign Language Illiteracy Riham Al-Iraki said it aims at finding a means of communication between the deaf and other people to bridge the gap between them and to integrate them into society. “They do not have a problem; we do, as we are unable to communicate,” she said, giving the example of the difficulties that they face in government offices in receiving services because of the lack of communication between them and employees.
The initiative will include a multi-dimensional awareness campaign that will begin in banks to train clerks on sign language so that they are able to better serve the deaf. This will then spread to government offices. The project is currently using social media to raise awareness so society can understand more about the issue, Al-Iraki says.
Al-Iraki adds they are currently working on the campaign’s agenda. During the launch, they distributed more than 100 hearing aids to the deaf and those with slight hearing impairments who attended, both males and females of different age groups, to help them communicate better, she said.
Al-Iraki has more aspirations to help integrate the deaf into society, including writing the national anthem in sign language “as these citizens have the right to learn it, too” and to put up signs at metro stations in sign language for them to know their way around.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly