We’ll provide every opportunity for deaf people, Sheikh Nahyan vows

The Hear My Voice – Empowering the Deaf conference at Dubai Healthcare City aims to promote deaf rights in the community.

Men comunicate using sign language during the Hear My Voice – Empowering the Deaf conference in Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National
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DUBAI // Do not discriminate against the deaf and give them access to the basic human rights of communication, education and employment.

That was the message on Wednesday at the launch of the Hear My Voice – Empowering the Deaf conference, which aims to promote deaf rights in the community.

“This is a conference that sheds light on the importance of grasping challenges faced by hard of hearing people,” said Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development.

“It also encourages serious efforts to care for hard of hearing people and to protect their rights,” he said at the conference, organised by the Kalimati Speech Communication Centre in Mirdif and the UAE Deaf Association.

Sheikh Nahyan said those with hearing disabilities should not have to live in isolation or face discrimination.

“We have to provide equal opportunities to all UAE boys and girls and allow them to grow to their full potential,” he said.

Salma Hamad Al Tamimi, a specialist teacher of the deaf at the Al Ain Centre for Care and Rehabilitation, said the UAE needed more higher education facilities for them.

“It is my dream for all deaf children to study in university. It needs a lot of work but we are taking it step by step.”

Ms Al Tamimi, one of the founders of the UAE Deaf Association, is a project manager for the UAE sign language dictionary. This is being compiled to provide more people with the communication tools to interact with the deaf and hard of hearing.

The project will be completed by 2015, she said.

There are about 70 million deaf people who use sign language as their first language or mother tongue, according to the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). More than 80 per cent of the 70 million live in developing countries, where authorities are rarely familiar with their needs. The UAE is still viewed as one of these developing countries.

“When a deaf person is born, the ability to have sign language is so important – just as it is for a hearing child to have access to spoken language,” said Dr Joseph Murray, a WFD board member who delivered the keynote address.

Addressing challenges for the deaf in Arabic countries is a key focus for the WFD, he said.

“When we talk about basic human rights, we talk about the right to use a language and the right to education through that language so then having access to services and support.

“There are a lot of people here [in the UAE] with a great deal of passion. I would like to see them supported.”

Sabine El Deek, technical manager and speech and language therapist at the Kalimati centre, said integration of the deaf into the community is possible through education, employment, social inclusion and the recognition of sign language.

“There is no higher education here. They finish school and that is that,” she said.

“The aim is to start accepting people into universities in the UAE.”

Tareq Saleh, an associate professor at King Saud University, Saudi Arabia, who works in the field, agrees that more needs to be done regarding education.

Many deaf people are leaving school with inadequate reading and writing skills, and those that do graduate and want to further their learning have to study abroad, he said.

“There is no belief in the ability of the deaf people here,” said Prof Saleh, referring to the region.

“If a deaf person can be successful in the United States, in Europe and in other countries, they can be successful here. The only difference is these countries are proving all the possible means of support to stand behind them and to encourage them.”

The conference at Dubai Healthcare City concludes on Thursday.