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Learners at Mary Kohn School in Cape Town use sign language in class. Image from Flickr.
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Citizenship

It Could Soon Be Mandatory for South Africans to Be Trained in Sign Language


Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 10 seeks to reduce inequalities, regardless of age, sexuality, disability, race, religion, or any other status. If more people know sign language, it makes spaces and society far more accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. You can join the movement by taking action here to help end inequality and achieve an end to extreme poverty. 

Many people across South Africa could be about to get a crash course in sign language, after action reportedly taken by the Pan South African Language Board to protect the rights of the country’s Deaf community. 

The government and other employers with frontline staff who interact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing could be obliged to provide South African Sign Language (SASL) training to majority of their staff, according to Business Insider.

And the changes could reportedly be brought in as early as next week. 

It comes after the Pan South African Language Board published a draft South African Sign Language Charter last week.

"[South African Sign Language] awareness and training should be mandatory to all staff members in the employ of government including municipalities, non-governmental organisations, or in the private sector," one clause reads.

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The document, it says, "applies to all segments of the South African society" and "creates obligations" to protect the linguistic rights of the Deaf community — and will become final by Oct. 11 if it receives no objections.

Although it is not recognised as one of the official South African languages, SASL is the official language of about a million people in the country.

To make the world more accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Board has proposed that banks, hospitals, and public transport points must be required to make public announcements through either sign language or close captioning.  

"Front facing/and front-line employees at all entities will have to receive ongoing training that includes sensitisation to the needs of deaf people,” says the report.

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In addition, more advanced training in sign language will be required of health and social workers, as well as police officers, because they provide essential support services and deal more frequently with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

According to the report, courses to achieve such proficiency cost in the region of R6,000 ($390)  per person and take around 240 hours to complete.

The charter also requires anyone planning a meeting, conference, or similar event to consult people who are deaf "well in advance" to make sure an interpreter of their choice is available.

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South Africa has previously been faced with a scandal that enraged the Deaf community after a false interpreter was used for the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela in 2013. It was reported at the time that the man was only pretending to do sign language interpretation. 

The Board was established to create conditions for the development and use of official languages, as well as ensure respect for all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa.

Further recognising the challenges in the consumption of media by the Deaf community, the charter also stipulates that all television programmes must come with both close captions or subtitles and South African Sign Language interpretation.