Stakeholders fight for the recognition of Ghanaian Sign Language in National discourse 

A National Stakeholders Forum on Ghana’s law that regulates Persons with Disability (PWDs) Act, (Act 715) and the United Nations Convention on the PWDs have been held in Accra. It was organized by the Ghana National Association of the Deaf (GNAD) with financial support from the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund.

It was themed “Enforcing the Disability Act 715 and UNCRPD towards Sign Language recognition”.

The objective of the forum was to engage with key stakeholders on the need to recognize Ghanaian Sign Language as official language so as to get them to understand, agree, own and support all actions towards sign language recognition. 

The forum involved panel discussions among stakeholders selected based on their experiences in various institutions. It was to collate inputs from diverse stakeholders who are providing Sign Language Services to individuals who are Deaf and hard of hearing, the challenges they encounter and how better the language component of the PWDs Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) can be implemented.

Executive Director of GNAD, Juventus Duorinaah told in an interview that the association is working to make sure that the Ghanaian Sign Language (GhSL) gets the necessary recognition as one of the national languages in the country and factored into the immediate future plans of the government.

Stakeholders fight for the recognition of Ghanaian Sign Language in National discourse 
Stakeholders fight for the recognition of Ghanaian Sign Language in National discourse

Shading lights on the potential impact on the deaf community if recognized, Mr. Juventus Duorinaah stated that “The recognition of the GhSL will inform and guide deaf education. Bilingual education can be started for the smooth implementation of Ghana’s Inclusive Education (IE) for the benefit of deaf students. The recognition of Ghanaian SL will provide the policy framework on deaf education which will lead to clarity as to what role sign language can play in providing integrated, mainstream, and inclusive education for deaf students at all levels,” he stated.

He said by so doing “Teaching and learning of GhSL can then become a compulsory part of the curriculum of inclusive education in targeted schools”.

Mr. Duorinaah also observed that with low literacy rate among deaf children of school going age, there is potential to expand literacy among deaf community if GhSL is recognized as language. He mentioned for example that more deaf children will be enrolled in school as they would be thought in a language that is recognized and understood by them. 

“Dropout rate will minimize and this will have an effect on education outcomes as the education of more deaf children will reduce illiteracy rate that currently exists among the deaf community. 

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Touching on other benefits of recognition of the Ghanaian Sign Language, he said the deaf community can exercise their civil and human rights as all other persons on an equal basis.

“The deaf can fully exercise their civil and human rights should sign language be recognized in Ghana. Accessing information and communicating will no more be a challenge. Through the placement of Sign Language Interpreters (SLI) at various institutions, the deaf community will not be left out in accessing information and communicating to the hearing. Their rights would be protected and defended and they will feel a sense of belonging,” Juventus sated passionately.

In his opening remarks during the forum, the Executive Director of GNAD explained that currently there is a proliferation of institutions that purports to be teaching and learning sign language that is not known as the GhSL. Once the Ghanaian Sign language is officially recognized in Ghana, it will guide the teaching and learning of sign languages in Ghana. 

He said should the Association be successful in its advocacy to Ghanaian Sigh language recognized and formalized, “wrong usage, teaching of sign language by individuals who can’t sign nor interpret will cease. The Ghanaian deaf youth and children in our Deaf schools will not have to learn the Ghanaian sign language with foreign sign languages. The rules of language will be stated clearly for all”.

Participants in the forum include representatives from the University of Ghana – Legon, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Education –Winneba, Takoradi Technical University, Presbyterian University College, among others. They shared their individual and institutional experiences with working with the Deaf community and the challenges they had to go through to get sign language to be accepted.

Key among the challenges was the sign language interpreter to deaf student ratio which almost all of them confirmed to be poor. They admitted that it is negatively impacting the extent to which deaf students can keep pace with their hearing peers.

For example, although the normal practices is for two sign Language interpreters to complement each other’s and change every 30minutes, almost all the institutions have one interpreter interpreting a 2hour course. Where the single interpreter gets tired after interpreting continuously beyond 30, the quality of information, speed and pace at which information are conveyed to the deaf student(s) begins to diminish. 

Other challenges the panelists listed were the difficulty in accepting deaf people to study in other departments or schools that are not technical, the language barrier between deaf students and their lecturers or even colleague students, lack of access to information, and the quota system of admitting students which does not benefit the deaf as they are mostly the losers. 

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While commending government for its efforts to amplify the provision of Ghanaian SL services especially this COVID-19 period, the association called on the state to facilitate the implementation of the sign language component of the PWDs Act and UNCRPD by ensuring that private media houses provide services that are inclusive and accessible to the deaf community, recognize Ghanaian SL as one of the national languages to facilitate the implementation Ghana’s Inclusive Education.

The association also called on the Ministry of Education to support the advocacy for recognition of Ghanaian Sign Language as official language to facilitate the deployment of Ghanaian sign language interpreters the association trained through its partnership Diploma in GhSL Interpreting Programme at the University of Cape Coast

By Jeorge Wilson Kingson


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