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International Week of the Deaf: an important recognition for the Deaf community

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Around the world, the last week of September is considered a historic week for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The week is recognised as the “International Week of the Deaf (IWDeaf),” along with 23rd September being the “International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL),” and marks a celebration of over 466 million Deaf individuals (World Health Organisation, Deafness and Hearing loss) from all walks of life.

For the deaf, it is a day that promises to protect their language of communication, their cultural diversity and unique identity, and makes a point of the “nothing about us without us” principle in terms of working with Deaf communities.

The Deaf community is made up of a diversity of people, who come from different backgrounds and overlapping cultures. For the hundreds of thousands of people living in the country with some degree of hearing loss, not being able to call for help or avail services in their first language due to the lack of accessibility in their social environment can be a terrifying and isolating experience. The hearing-majority society is so reluctant to learn about their culture, to see their struggles through their eyes, and to pledge to encourage their participation that it does not realise how their ignorance is causing the communication gap between them to widen even more.

We, at ConnectHear, realise there is an urgent need to take on the responsibility and to make an effort to educate those who are unaware of deaf experiences and their culture.

In light of this special observance, ConnectHear designed a week-long digital campaign called Dear Hearing People and arranged a series of collaborative webinars to initiate a national discussion on inclusion of the deaf and the importance of sign language accessibility in our society.

To kick-start the week of the deaf, as a part of the general campaign, a Sign With Us video challenge was published on all of our social media channels. The interactive sign language awareness challenge called for people to do signs of given words within 15 seconds, through which hundreds of people from Deaf and hearing communities across Pakistan were able to engage with each other. Following the challenge, an emotive Dear Hearing People video was released. It showed a group of Deaf and hard of hearing people sending a message in sign language to all hearing people of Pakistan to wake up and listen to them.

In recent years, creating an inclusive, non-discriminatory, and diverse work culture has become not just about the programs. It is considered important for ensuring a sense of belonging and acceptance in the workplace for all, and even in the social environment. An exercise of this commitment was seen in ConnectHear’s collaborations with various social, government and corporate organisations in the celebration of International Week of the Deaf (IWDeaf).

We stayed true to its philosophy of ensuring Deaf inclusion and sign language accessibility in social spheres, and provided its sign language interpretation service on the celebratory program of International Day of Sign Languages, which was hosted by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPD). From Mr. Parvez Ahmed Seehar and Syed Qassam Naveed Qamar, to Additional Secretary Mr. Jalaluddin and several other prominent government officials were present, who were instrumental in guiding the discussion on recognising Pakistani Sign Language (PSL) as an official language in Sindh. ConnectHear was honoured to have interpreted for the Deaf audience in sign language there, as well as getting to witness a historic moment be made.

Sign language awareness and learning webinars were organised across the board through ConnectHear’s Facebook page. ConnectHear joined hands with The Kaizen Group to teach a group of driven hearing participants the basics of Pakistani Sign Language (PSL).

In addition, a virtual program on sign language accessibility and Deaf inclusion was initiated by Lincoln Corners, where ConnectHear was invited to speak from experience. Aliya and Saqib, ConnectHear’s Sign Language Trainers, spoke from experience on the importance of sign language awareness in hearing communities, paying attention to the struggles Deaf people face in society without the availability of interpreters, and why we should come together to support all sign language users and their cultural diversity and unique linguistic identity.

Following the seminar, on 24th September, Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) invited our Co-Founder, Azima Dhanjee to wrap up an online session on social good and the importance of hearing out all young voices in Pakistan.

Unlocking the world of state-of-the-art inclusive ideas for the deaf during the week of the deaf, for the first time, novel but great steps were taken in the right direction.

Special Olympics Pakistan (SOP), with the help of ConnectHear’s Trainers, conducted a sign language awareness training session and set a precedent for other sport organisations to be inclined to touch on the discussion of sign language as means of communication for Deaf athletes and why it is important to be aware of their unique experiences. In collaboration with Relivenow, a mental health solutions company providing online and offline counselling and therapy services, ConnectHear initiated a webinar on the effects of depression, along with other mental illnesses, on people’s minds during the COVID-19 pandemic era. Seeing as mental health services and information are most of the time not available in sign language, this community suffers twofold more than the rest. ConnectHear aimed to provide accessibility in the form of sign language interpretation to the Deaf viewers and ensure that the session was Deaf-accessible, because mental health awareness is not just for one but for all.

Believing in the notion that equal opportunities should be for all, on 25th September, ConnectHear participated in the event hosted by Media Deaf Interpreter (MDI) and discussed the struggles the deaf face due to a lack of services and facilities available in sign language.

In due course, ConnectHear also sponsored an event of the MDI Women faction. More than 30 Deaf women leaders participated. The program served as an empowering force for the women to confront their unique societal experiences.

To mark the end of International Week of the Deaf, in connection with Danishkadah, Media Deaf Interpreter (MDI), along with the Pakistani Deaf Community, ConnectHear acted as the interpreting force in the public awareness walk. Hundreds of Deaf community members and advocates in Karachi marched from People Square to Press Club and took a stand for the realisation of their human rights, awareness of their rich cultural diversity and heritage, and language.

ConnectHear is proud to have been one of the national leading voices who opened public discussions on Deaf inclusion, the importance of learning sign language, and sign language accessibility in society.

The set of programmes, including the emotive video campaigns, proved to foster appreciation and awareness of Deaf people, their culture, and their language in the conscience of hundreds of thousands of hearing people across the country.

Because understanding the diversity of Deaf people and sign languages should be seen as not an inconvenience but rather, a fascinating window into other cultures and an opportunity to learn more about a different community.

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