The Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee is considering classifying South African Sign Language as the country’s twelfth official language.

Speaking at the launch  of the South African Sign Language (SASL) Charter on September 4, Deputy minister in the Presidency Department of Women Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize said Parliamant is looking into amending Section 30 of the Constitution and the National Official Languages to include Sign Language.

“I want to emphasise that South African Sign Language is a right and not a privilege, and is a language of the first line of commutation for deaf people,” she said.

“The strengthening of inter-sectoral collaboration between the government and the deaf community will make South Africa one of the countries that provide for deaf people’s communication mode in their own local language.

“The Association of Deaf People has lodged a long, hard struggle to get South African Sign Language to be recognised by government in all its sectors and society at large,” she continued. “It is therefore important to consider the legislating and regulating South African Sign Language by declaring it the 12th official language for the country.

“This will be available on request or on-demand to assist the deaf community to access services, information, public institutions and education with ease and in the language that they understand,” Mkhize said.

September is Deaf Awareness Month and the SASL Charter Launch will kickstart various activities that will be undertaken by PanSALB in various parts of the country to raise awareness about South African Sign Language and the charter. This September also marks 62 years of the celebration of International Month for the Deaf as declared by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD).

The SASL Charter was conceptualised to address issues that relate to communication, access to information, facilities, and social justice for the Deaf community, including the type of service provided by SASL interpreters in general.

The charter compels all government departments and other organs of state as well as private sector to make provisions for SASL interpreting and guarantees access to services by Deaf persons through ensuring essential service staff such as social workers and police officers receive advanced level training in South African Sign Language.

Other suggestions included in the Charter are:

– Parents, guardians and caregivers of Deaf children should be afforded the opportunity to learn SASL and, where necessary, they should receive financial support from spheres of government and the private sector

– The Department of Basic Education and relevant stakeholders should increasingly provide support to ensure that suitably trained educators with a qualification in SASL are employed as SASL educators within schools

– When the critical mass of educators with formal qualification in SASL is adequate to service more than schools for the Deaf, then the SASL First Additional Language (FAL) curriculum should be written and SASL can be made available as a subject choice that is taught at ordinary schools

– Training and awareness campaigns, including Deaf sensitisation training, should be provided on an ongoing basis, particularly for front-line employees at all entities

– Close captions and subtitles should be diligently provided across all television programmes, live streaming , webTV, social media and real time captioning

– South African TV channels should have Deaf interpreters and SASL interpreters inserted in all TV programmes, important announcements and speeches, emergencies and national commemorations.

“The SASL Charter is premised on the ‘nothing about us without us’ disability movement. It is a product of years of extensive consultation with the Deaf community that has culminated to this call to action for our government and civil society to rally together and pledge their commitment to the principles of multilingualism and social cohesion that underpin the provisions of this charter” said Chairperson of the PanSALB Board, Dr David Maahlamela.

Read the charter here: SASL-Charter-Final

Picture: Unsplash

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