According to the World Health Organization, 466 million people worldwide suffer from disabling hearing loss. In the next three decades, that figure is projected to almost double.
It’s with this in mind that, ahead of International Day of Sign Languages on 23rd September and International Week of the Deaf running from 24th to 30th September, a local advocacy group is urging for more local awareness on the matter.
“When we compare deafness in the Arab world to the US, there is a lack of awareness and education here,” Maha Al Mehairbi, founder of the Hand Speakers initiative, told us. “There’s a huge difference. Only recently was Emirati Sign Language announced. There was nothing before; it was a mixture of different languages.”
The group, which was founded last year, is run by volunteers and serves the deaf community with meet-ups, workshops and learning opportunities for schools and workplaces, teaching Emirati and American Sign Language.
For Maha, the group is an important way of fostering inclusion, as well as addressing the communication gap between hearing and deaf people.
“The UAE is very responsive to the problems of deaf people, but now what we need is more awareness,” she noted.
“If a deaf person walks into any public place here, they won’t find anyone that understands them. Not all of them have an interpreter or a family member who understands their language. It can be very isolating, and they are disconnected from society.
“We need more people that understand the basics of sign language and we need more understanding for the needs of deaf people – particularly at [spoken events] or the cinema, where an interpreter or subtitles could help deaf people understand what’s going on.
“It would make them so happy to be able to be a part of these things,” she added. “The simplest things make a difference to the lives of deaf people.”
To find out more, visit: handspeakers.com