‘Give deaf people a voice’: Dubai campaign seeks to integrate those with hearing disabilities

The campaign aims to help people realise the importance of sign language and seeks to integrate those with hearing disabilities into society.

Zayed Al Tamimi, left, is a deaf Emirati employee at the Department of Transport. He would like to see more provisions for those with hearing impairments. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // Give deaf people a voice in the community to help break down barriers for those living with hearing disabilities.

That was the message at the launch of the Hear Us Sign campaign in Dubai yesterday, when it was also revealed that a UAE sign language dictionary is being compiled.

The campaign aims to raise awareness about the importance of sign language and to help integrate those with hearing disabilities into society.

“This event is our first campaign, which is simply about raising awareness about deaf people, about sign language and about awareness in society,” said Bedour Al Raqbani, director and founder of the Kalimati Speech Communication Centre in Mirdif.

The Emirati campaigner was inspired to set up the centre in 2010, after she struggled to find suitable care for her own hearing-impaired daughter, Noora Al Kaabi, now seven.

Noora was just nine months when doctors discovered she was deaf in both ears.

The campaign is latest step in Ms Al Raqbani’s mission to help those like her daughter.

“Sign language is the second most spoken language in our household, with my daughter being deaf. But we always get these stares and glares because we are talking with our hands.

“For others, it seems like we are being too dramatic in a way,” she said, whose centre is running the campaign in association with the UAE Deaf Association and Dubai Healthcare City. “She is always asking why no one knows how to speak to her and why she needs an interpreter. So it [the campaign] is for her and for the new generation and for the deaf community – for us to connect with them.”

There are no UAE statistics about the prevalence of deafness and hearing disabilities, although Ms Al Raqbani said organisations are compiling such data.

According to the Word Health Organisation, more than 5 per cent of the world’s population – about 360 million – has disabling hearing loss.

The Hear Us Sign campaign will comprise of a roadshow across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain, Sharjah and Fujairah to promote the importance of sign language.

The 10-day campaign, which begins on Tuesday and is fronted by Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi, the United Nations ambassador at large for the Arab and Gulf region, will see a customised lorry make stops across the emirates.

“There is a majority of society who do not know about deaf communication or the deaf community itself,” said Hamad Al Damaki, president of the UAE Deaf Association, speaking though an interpreter. “This is the role of the association.”

Of the 300 deaf and hard of hearing people associated with the association, two thirds are in education or employment.

Mr Al Damaki said the UAE sign language dictionary is being compiled to provide more people with the communication tools to interact with the deaf and hard of hearing.

He said the next step would be to provide more higher education and employment opportunities for them.

Zayed Al Tamimi, a 29-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi, is a deaf employee at the Department of Transport. He would like to see more provisions for those with hearing impairments.

“Sometimes I have to write for them or vice versa so we can communicate. This is one of the obstacles.

“I hope that the campaign has a positive impact not only here in the UAE but also in the Arab world,” he said.

Sabine El Deek, technical manager and speech and language therapist at the Kalimati centre, called for more awareness.

“It is the deaf community who have the most brightest future in terms of education,” she said, referring to deaf people in comparison with people who have disabilities in general.

It is very easy for them to be brought into the mainstream, for them to be employed, but we need the awareness, she said.

The campaign is a curtain raiser to Hear My Voice – Empowering the Deaf, a two-day conference which will be held later this month.