Bridging the language gap
When focussing on literacy for Deaf and hard of hearing learners a lot of time is spend accounting for the language delay with which many Deaf and hard of hearing children come to school. If we are serious about achieving literacy for all children, we have to make sure that Deaf and hard of hearing children and their families have access to Sign Language as early as possible. This means early identification, Deaf role models, and Sign Language classes for parents, extended family, and communities.
Communities and families
Deaf and hard of hearing children do not have language delays because they are Deaf or hard of hearing, but because the environment they grow up in does not use a fully accessible language. Often parents are not aware that their child is Deaf or hard of hearing. Families often experience various forms of exclusion through stigma fuelled by myths about deafness.
A collaboration between Royal Kentalis and National Associations for the Deaf in Uganda, Zambia, and Rwanda resulted in the development and delivery of parent awareness workshops for parents of young Deaf children. These workshops, delivered by Deaf role models, strengthen parents skills in raising their child, as well as debunking myths and abolishing stigma in their communities.
The importance of early identification
When children are identified early as being Deaf or hard of hearing they and their families can access support early. Screening right after birth or while visiting the health clinic for immunisations would be ideal. However, health professionals are not the only actors who can increase early detection. Teachers, parents, and key community leaders also can play an important role.
By increasing the knowledge, they have about sound and hearing, they can identify children who might be Deaf or hard of hearing in an early stage. Royal Kentalis has developed an e-learning on Basic Audiology, in particular for its partner countries in Africa. It is open-source and offers basic knowledge about hearing and audiology that will help parents, community members, health workers and teachers to identify deaf and hard of hearing children early. The e-learning can be an integral part of teacher training, but it is also CPD-certified and can be used for health workers training.
Besides strengthening parents and communities through parent awareness workshops, communication between children is a key component in pre-school development of deaf and hard of hearing children. Sign Language is fully accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing children, as well as their parents. Children coming to school with language skills have a great foundation to learn the language used in school, as well as other academic skills. By increasing parents sign language skills, they get a chance to bond with their children, and teach them basic pre-school skills, just like they do with their hearing children.
Sign Language is the cultural language of Deaf people, and deaf children have the right to learn and be taught in sign language, as well as the right to learn the language of their parents, and the culture they grow up in. This rich linguistic and cultural heritage is theirs, just as it is for their hearing peers. By ensuring parents have access to learning Sign Language they get to be the best parent they can be for their Deaf or hard of hearing child.
Early access is key. This can be achieved by involving parents, Deaf role models, and other community members in early detection and early access to sign language. This does not only prepare Deaf and hard of hearing children for school, but it also allows parents and children to bond and it gives Deaf and hard of hearing children and their parents the opportunity to fully access and connect with their cultural and linguistic heritage.