Museums in Sharjah provide sign language training to open up culture to all

Staff have mastered sign language to make museums more inclusive in the emirate

Sharjah Museums Authority is training staff in sign language to make for a more welcoming experience for those with hearing impairments. Courtesy Sharjah Museums Authority
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Museums in Sharjah are on a mission to open up culture to all - by training staff to support the hearing-impaired.

Sharjah Museums Authority - which oversees the emirate's network of culture spots - has helped employees to master sign language as part of an ongoing initiative to improve its accessibility.

As well as encouraging workers to learn sign language, museums in Sharjah also employ people with hearing impairments in an effort to create a more diverse workforce.

As part of the effort to foster a more inclusive environment, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization hosted a series of presentations using sign language during an event on Monday, held during Arab Deaf Week.

Talks on various collections on display at museums in Sharjah were held, using Arabic and English sign language during the Let's Live Together campaign.

“We have several employees who know the basics of sign language and others who master it,” said Moza Al Yassi, head of accessibility services and programmes at SMA, who has also learned sign language.

She said the authority arranged for an instructor to visit all 16 of its museums to teach the basics of sign language.

During the event, a graduate from Sharjah University, spoke of the challenges people with hearing impairments face and expressed his delight at the work being carried by SMA.

“We are faced by many challenges during study and following that, during the search for work," said Abdusalam Mohammed Zourob, 28.

'The lack of people who know sign language is a great barrier. The first time in my entire life that I was able to know details about museums displays was at a Sharjah museum because a tour in sign language was available. I can not tell you how happy I was about this.”

Manal Ataya, director general of SMA, wants to ensure everyone is able to enjoy a visit to one of the emirate's cultural venues to the fullest.

“Everyone in our community is entitled to an enjoyable museum experience that meets their needs and, although every museum is different; we can still maximize their social impact,” she said.

Mohammed Hafiz, a part-time tour guide with SMA, hasn't allowed his hearing impairment to hold him back and is thankful for the opportunity to help others in his role.

“I had taken part in SMA's outstanding guide programme two years ago and they suggested that I join them as a part-time guide for the hearing impaired,” he said.

Mohammed Hafiz, who has a hearing impairment, works as a tour guide with Sharjah Museums Authority. Courtesy Sharjah Museums Authority        

Emirati visitors services coordinator, Amna Bagbair, 30, who works at the reception of Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, described the sheer joy of a visitor when they realised she understood sign language and was able to communicate with them.

“He spoke to my colleague first and then when I responded in sign language, he was in disbelief and was so happy,” she said.

“I learned sign language during courses arranged by SMA. I took two courses last year and one this year,” said Amna.

Maitha Rashid, who works as a guide at Al Mahatta museum, said having the chance to help others was hugely rewarding.

“I can not tell you how happy I am. It is a rewarding feeling to help people feel engaged and connected,” said Ms Rashid, who has taken two courses in sign language and is due to complete a third later this year.

Across the UAE, efforts are being made to break down barriers and make society more inclusive for deaf people and hose with hearing difficulties.

Dubai's Community Development Authority has launched a smart application to provide people with hearing problems to access support and information.

Staff trained in sign language are also on hand to assist travellers at Sharjah Airport.

Last May, the UAE Cabinet announced plans to launch the country's first sign language dictionary, featuring 5,000 words.