Today our facebook feed featured this article discussing “Japan’s first princess delivering her first speech – in sign language!”. This step should be celebrated, but while shining light on the actions of Japan’s first princess, the article does nothing to encourage a dialogue about sign language, communication and inclusion.
It got us thinking, learning sign language has been a dream of our team members for a while. Some of us have started to learn and others hope to learn when they can dedicate enough time to the learning process. Should learning sign language be considered more admirable than learning another
Communication is key to creating communities, it helps us relate to one another, it allows us to help one another; being different shouldn’t equate to being isolated. And yet, so often that is exactly what happens.
We’ve always thought that it is strange that as children we aren’t actively taught how to communicate with peers of differing abilities. Discussing our options in primary, secondary and even further education, there was never an option to study sign language. By allowing scenarios in which there is no accessibility for children to have the option to learn sign language (or alternative modes of communication), we help to perpetuate the notion that if you are not directly affected then it is not something that you need to deal with or think about.
While one could argue that this is simply neutral ground, it is important to consider what neutrality is and how it impacts on the people who are on the receiving end of neutrality; “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”, Desmond Tutu, and “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral ”, Paulo Freire.
Positive change requires effort and acknowledgement of the issues that need to be bettered, not a silent acknowledgement of injustice.
The roots of the words “Communication” and “Community” are “Commūnicāre” and “Communitas” respectively. The word Commūnicāre means “to share”. Communitas refers to an “unstructured state in which all members of a community are equal allowing them to share a common experience, usually through a rite of passage”.
By introducing the teaching of alternative modes of communication to children in mainstream education and opening dialogues about difference, we will create a society that allows it’s members to share their experiences of the world with another, thereby creating a common experience for everyone.