History and Status of Sign Language
Sign Language is a visual and gestural Language based on the use of hands, eyes, face, mouth and body. A manual alphabet ( or finger spelling ) may be used along with Sign Language.
Sign Language is a separate Language which continuously develops and changes. Sign Language is a visual language expressed with eye movement as well as facial expressions.
Deaf people in Uganda, learn Sign Language as their mother tongue and English as their foreign language. It is impossible to use Sign Language with spoken language simultaneously.
Sign Language is grammatically different from spoken or written language. Sign Language represents Deaf people’s creative response to the experience of profound deafness. Deaf people in every place of the world have their own native Sign Language.
Sign Language is the preferred mode of communication of most Deaf people. It gives Deaf people the opportunity to express themselves and there by develop their full communication, knowledge, perceptive and to posses potential, in a way that spoken language in educational and social environment allows Deaf people to live their lives to the full, just like other non – handicapped people. Deaf people in Uganda use Sign Language in the same way as Hearing people use spoken language (i.e English language) English is used for reading and writing. Sign Language is a primary means of communication such as spoken English and not a secondary one such as written English.
For us who are Deaf, Sign Language is our primary language and the natural means of communication. As it is based on sight, it becomes the channel for receiving information and acquiring knowledge. The produced symbols of the language i.e the signs but also the head and movement of the eyes and the mouth, have linguistic meaning. Communication in Sign Language is necessary, and also bridges a gap between us and the Hearing people and a prerequisite for our active participation in the social life in the community. Contact with non signing persons is mainly made possible through Sign Language Interpreters.
Today, it is common practice for some professionals working with Deaf people, to use Sign Language. The more the teacher’s ability to use Sign Language, the greater the academic achievements and results of Deaf children. With the help of qualified Sign Language Interpreters, Deaf students are able to undertake further training and qualification at Universities and institutions of higher learning. It is important for those unfamiliar with Deaf communities and Sign Language history to understand why Sign language is a major concern to the Deaf.
Throughout the world, hearing communities use spoken languages as their primary means of communication, and most have developed writing systems which are based on the spoken language. However, profoundly Deaf individuals and especially those who become deaf early in life do not acquire spoken language through normal process and therefore, have great difficulty mastering the written language as well.
These individuals do not benefit from the surrounding spoken language and thus prefer Sign Language as a medium of communication. In many countries great controversy has risen, particularly within institutions of deaf education, concerning the use of spoken language, written languages and Sign Language. For example, the 1880 International Congress of the Deaf,’ decided that’ Education of the Deaf would be conducted in oral (spoken) language and that Sign Language would be prohibited in the classroom”. This decision was enacted throughout the system of Deaf Education of at least the industrialized nations and thus involved massively limited opportunity for Deaf people to learn or use their natural Sign Language.
For school age children , Sign Language became underground language, used secretly and often with punishment if discovered, but with in the adult Deaf community , Sign language continued to be the wide spread language used for every day communication, for arts and culture.
The National Organizations of the Deaf and the World Federation of the Deaf were formed in attempts to establish and protect the human rights of Deaf individuals to use Sign Language and preserve their culture.
Deaf people form a separate linguistic group with their own language and culture. Sign Language is a living language, which enables the Deaf people to enjoy a rich social contact through the use of Sign Language interpreters and technical hearing aids.