DUBAI // A new sign language course is aimed at "breaking the barriers" between the deaf community and the rest of society. The programme, scheduled to begin at the end of this month, will teach students American Sign Language, which was developed in the US in the early 19th century. "Sign language can empower both the deaf and the hearing community by breaking the barriers within everyday life," said Eli Abi Rached, the managing director of the Eton Institute in Dubai Knowledge Village, which will run the 30-hour course.
"Hearing impairment is not a disability but only a difference in human experience and perception." The course will provide students with "everything they need to begin using sign language in practical, everyday situations, from talking about family, to planning a party, to shopping at the mall". The fee is Dh1,600 (US$435) per person, including registration and supplementary material. A proportion of the proceeds goes to charity.
The institute runs 17 language courses and also provides teaching material for many more. However, the heads of the facility felt there was one area that was being neglected. "We thought there was one language we hadn't done and no one had done before [here], which is sign language," said Moaz Khan, its marketing manager. "Unfortunately, no one really does it and there is no fully fledged course. We can teach this ... to break the barrier between those who hear and those who do not."
The course is also designed as a step towards addressing a lack of sign language interpreters in schools and society in general. Hamad al Darmaki, a deaf Emirati community worker from Al Ain, who last year received the Abu Dhabi Award for creating a football team for the city's hearing-impaired, said there was a chronic lack of interpreters. "If your language isn't understood, you can't engage with society," he said.
Integration with society has long been an issue the special needs community has hoped to address. Mr Khan said "there has not been recognition" for those with disabilities here, and there had been few collective efforts to support them. As part of a bid to reverse this, the Ministry of Education announced last October that over the next three years it would set up 60 schools across the country with facilities for the inclusion of children with special needs.