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  • Raghav Sand

International Day of Sign Languages

Communication is at the core of human progress and existence. Language is the synthesis that binds us together. Verbal and written form of communication has been in existence for as long as humans have lived. The wall paintings found in ancient caves was one of the earliest forms of documenting events and leaving a message for future generations. Later, with human evolution, alphabets and numbers were developed for uniformity.

The World Became Flat

Written communication has been used to document and preserve text for legal, educational, and leisure purposes; it is also helpful in transmission of a message to a larger audience. In Germany, around 1440, goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which started the Printing Revolution. With the advent of electronic devices such as personal computers, and hand-held mobile devices, the medium of communication has become digital to a vast extent.

Most communication takes place verbally in the spoken form. There is a section of people who have hearing impairment / deafness, which hinders smooth communication.

Human Rights of People Who Are Deaf

The International Day of Sign Languages is a unique opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 72 million (7.2 crores) deaf people worldwide. More than 80% of them live in developing countries. Collectively, they use more than 300 different sign languages.

Common sign language for numbers and English Alphabet

The United Nations General Assembly (UN) has earmarked 23rd September as the International Day of Sign Languages, with an objective to raise awareness of the importance of sign language in the full realization of the human rights of people who are deaf.

Causes of Hearing Loss or Deafness

Congenital Causes

Congenital causes may lead to hearing loss being present at or acquired soon after birth. Hearing loss can be caused by hereditary and non-hereditary genetic factors or by certain complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including: low birth weight, birth asphyxia (a lack of oxygen at the time of birth) and inappropriate use of particular drugs during pregnancy. Severe jaundice in the neonatal period can damage the hearing nerve in a new-born infant.

Acquired causes

Acquired causes may lead to hearing loss at any age, such as: infectious diseases including meningitis, measles and mumps, chronic ear infections and collection of fluid in the ear (otitis media). Apart form the aforesaid reasons, injury to the head or ear, excessive noise, including occupational noise such as that from machinery and explosions, and recreational exposure to loud sounds such as that from use of personal audio devices at high volumes are also among circumstances that affect the ability to hear.

Ageing, in particular due to degeneration of sensory cells and wax or foreign bodies blocking the ear canal is also a cause of hearing impairment.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Some simple strategies for prevention of hearing loss include:

  1. Educating young people and population in general on hearing loss, its causes, prevention and identification;

  2. Immunizing children against childhood diseases, including measles, meningitis, rubella and mumps; and

  3. Referring infants at high risk, such as those with a family history of deafness or those born with low birth weight, birth asphyxia, jaundice or meningitis, for early assessment of hearing. This can ensure prompt diagnosis and appropriate management, as required.

Government Action in India

Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) launched the first Indian Sign Language (ISL) Dictionary of 3000 terms on 23rd March, 2018. Subsequently, 2nd Edition of ISL Dictionary was introduced on 27th February, 2019; it includes 6000 words under the categories of academic, legal, medical, technical and everyday terms.

National Education Policy 2020 has formulated that “ISL will be standardized across the country, and National and State curriculum materials developed, for use by students with hearing impairment. Local sign languages will be respected and taught as well, where possible and relevant”. [Part I – Section 4.22]

Why Does UN Mark International Days?

International days are occasions to advocate awareness and seek solutions to a globally relevant subject. It helps in concerted political action and resource mobilization to address an issue that affects humanity as a whole.

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