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30 August 2007 (VOL 5 WEEK 35)

Welcome Hello and welcome to another edition of our news from the World Federation of the Deaf Congress. This edition will look at how the Congress ensured the voice of Deaf people from "Developing Countries" was heard.

Commission On Developing Countries The WFD has been working with Deaf organisations from developing countries for many years. The WFD recognised that Deaf people in these countries faced enormous social, political and economic challenges and financial / emotional hardship.

In many countries access to education, employment, communication and information is limited. In some countries, there are no services for Deaf people. Deaf people are oppressed, discriminated and are marginalised within mainstream society. There are Deaf people who have gone through wars and famine with little or no support.

At this year’s congress, the Commission on Developing Countries wanted to ensure a high participation of delegates from these countries. The Spanish National Confederation of Deaf People (CNSE) with the help of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) and the Carolina Foundation, made it possible for 124 Deaf people from 64 developing countries to receive support and attend the Congress and the General Assembly.

In total, 36 delegates came from 18 countries in Latin America. A total of 24 delegates came from 12 countries in Asia and Oceania. There were 14 delegates from 8 countries in Eastern Europe. Lastly, 50 delegates represented 26 countries in Africa- where an estimated 309,600 Deaf people live in Ethiopia alone. Kenya has approx 280,000 to 600,000 Deaf people with little or no access to services.

The participation of so many delegates from these countries was inspiring. Their attendance enriched the congress and contributed to a greater understanding of the struggles in their countries. At the same time, it was amazing to see projects being established in some countries including the building of Education Units, the development of early intervention programmes for families with deaf children, the creation of sign language materials and training for interpreters and sign language tutors.

It was heart-warming to see Deaf organisations from all over the world co-operate with projects in Developing Countries. There were presentations from Deaf organisations in Scandinavian countries, the USA, The Netherlands, and Japan on the work they are doing in these countries.

However, this work is still in its infancy- much more needs to be done. We need more people like our own Alvean Jones, a Deaf woman from Dublin who has been in The Gambia for a number of years working with local Deaf.

We would like to commend the WFD/ the CNSE for ensuring many of these countries were represented at the congress. We would also like to commend the Deaf organisations and all the individuals from all over the world who work tirelessly to improve the lives of Deaf people in Developing Countries.

The next WFD will be held in Durban in four years time and this will be another opportunity for the Deaf world to learn about issues of importance to people living in Africa and other developing countries.

We intend to send a delegation to Durban and in time hope to work in conjunction with a Deaf organisation in one of these countries.

More news on the WFD will be available next week.

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23 August 2007 (VOL 5 WEEK 34)

Welcome Hello and welcome to the 4th edition of news from the World Federation of the Deaf congress.

This year the WFD concentrated on eight Commissions and ten SIG's. Each one had a national as well as an international presidency. Each commission was opened with a plenary presentation by Deaf/ hearing experts of international renown, followed by a number of SIG's.

For the first time in the history of WFD Congresses, a Commission on "Women" was created to promote equality policy and to build a more just society, where women count. This was headed by two plenaries "Current Situation of Deaf Women in the Developing Countries" by Euphrasia Mbewe of Zambia. Mbewe is the WFD representative in the Global Partnership for Disability and Development (GPDD) of the World Bank. This was followed by "Gender Equality: a matter of Human Rights" by Carmen Cerezales of Spain.

Priority was also given to a Commission on "Developing Countries". This was a joint presentation by Asger Bergmann- the President of the Danish Association of the Deaf, he is involved in numerous projects in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe. He was joined by representatives of the Finnish Assoc. of the Deaf- Mr. Florjan Rojba and Ms. Karin Hoyer who gave a presentation on working on Sign Language in Albania. This was followed by Mr. Enver Kurtalana and Mr. Colin Allen who gave an outline of a project working on organizational development in Kosovo. The final part of this Commission was from the Norwegian Association of the Deaf who outlined a project they are involved with the Madagascan Association of the Deaf.

The Commission on "Human Rights, Linguistic Rights and Culture" was broken into two plenaries- "Without sign language there are no human rights by Yerker Andersson (USA) and Kim Robinson (NZ), followed by "Cultural Rights and Sign Language Peoples" by Paddy Ladd (UK).

The commission on "Sign Language" lead with a plenary by Dr. Angel Herrero on "Sign Languages: Fraternal Languages". Ángel has a Doctorate in Hispanic Philology. His extensive academic and professional curriculum is related to Spanish Sign Language (LSE). He works as a director of the Sign Library Miguel de Cervantes which disseminate the main literary works in LSE. He is also director of the Investigation Unit of Linguistics Applied to Sign Languages of the University of Alicante.

Kaori Takeuchi of Japan gave the main plenary in the Commission on "Education". She has spent a large part of her life explaining the advantages of applying the bilingual education model to Deaf people. As part of her work, she has toured the majority of Japanese universities and educational centres. An expert in the history of education systems applied to Deaf people, she has published several texts including "Give us our language back".

The "Technology and Accessibility" Commission opened with "Designing a World for Everyone by Open Collaboration" by Antti Raike of Finland. He was the first Deaf person to graduate from Helsinki University. He has a Doctorate in Art, a Master in Education and a Master in Film production. His obsession has always been to bring movies close to Deaf people. He has made two documentary pictures: The 100dB Silence Dancer (1995) and Happy Despite the Difficulties (1997). Tireless creator, he has explored all areas of visual culture: theatre, video, television and Internet.

The main plenary for the Commission on "Mental Health" was given by Ines Sleeboom from the Netherlands- "Mental Health and Deafness in a Changing World". After graduating from Medical School of the University Leiden, Ines studied Psychiatry as her Specialty 26 years ago. From that moment on she specialized in treating mental illnesses in Deaf people. In 1985 she founded in her country, the National Centre for Mental Health and Hearing Disorders and has published several works.

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke was the plenary presenter of the Commission on "Medicine ­ Biotechnology and Bioethics". Teresa is a Deaf person who has specialised in Bioethics and Philosophy in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Gallaudet University. For some time she has been cooperating with several universities on bioethical topics related to upcoming new technology and Deaf community. Her research is centred on ethics related to the use of genetic technology with Deaf people.

More news from the WFD will be available in next weeks update.

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16 August 2007 (VOL 5 WEEK 33)

Welcome Hello and Welcome to the Kerry Deaf Update.

World Federartion of the Deaf (WFD): Human Rights.

This is the third in the series of reports from the World Federation of the Deaf congress held in Madrid last month. In this update we will focus on Human Rights.

Human Rights Through Sign Languages The overall theme of the WFD Congress was Human Rights Through Sign Languages with papers being presented daily on different topics within this area.

Yerker Andersson from the US and Kim Robinson from New Zealand outlined the legal status of Sign Languages. According to the WFD over 40 countries have recognized Sign Languages and the Council of Europe has recently published a book on the status of Sign Languages in its 26 member states. Furthermore international organisations, such as the WHO and UNESCO have acknowledged the existence of Sign Languages in their documentation.

Presentations were also made by Victoria Manning from New Zealand and Luis Cañon from Spain on the recognition process, and the effects on the Deaf Community of achieving official recognition of Sign Language.

Deaf Schools The topic of Deaf schools was discussed in many papers. Paddy Ladd, UK, proposed that international legislation for the protection of minority and indigenous cultures could be used to protect Deaf cultural heritage including Deaf schools.

Two German presenters, Thomas Worseck and Alexander von Meyenn, described the modern trend in Europe of closing Deaf schools and mainstreaming Deaf children, the effects of this trend on the Deaf Community, and what is being done to combat this trend. In 2006 the German Deaf Association introduced a number of initiatives to increase awareness of the Deaf Community in society. They targeted the medical profession, teachers, parents and politicians educating them on the benefits for deaf children of using Sign Language. In particular, they highlighted the positive effects on the children’s personal development and on their spoken language skills. The presenters’ aim was to show that Deaf Associations and the Deaf Community itself can take a proactive role in preserving and empowering Deaf and Sign Language communities.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities The most important development discussed in the Congress was the adoption by the United Nations at the end of 2006 of new a UN Human Rights Convention ­ the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

To date approx. 100 countries, including Ireland, have ratified this new Convention. Once a country ratifies a convention it becomes a legally binding document in that country and the government are obliged to adhere to it convention and make any necessary legislative changes.

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to. They cover many different aspects of a person’s life, such as freedom of thought and expression, and the right to life and equality before the law. The United Nations was established to safeguard the human rights of the citizens of all nations. The UN Universal Declaration of Human states that 'all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights… and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

The UN has established several legal instruments to protect people's rights, for example:
  • UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
However, as UN Ambassador Don McKay pointed out at the WFD "Some groups have tended to be a lesser priority for Governments for enforcement of their rights over the years.” This is why the new UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities was created. Eventually this new convention will protect nearly 650 million people or 10% of the world’s population; the number of people worldwide who have a disability.

This Convention marks a shift from a medical model to a human rights model of disability. The Convention outlines measures that governments must use to promote the human rights of people with disabilities, for example anti-discrimination legislation, the elimination of practices that discriminate against people with disabilities, and how to ensure access to services, goods and facilities.

The WFD participated in all stages of the development of the Convention to ensure that Deaf people and their rights were represented properly in the new convention. As a result, certain sections of the Convention’s 50 articles are of particular relevance to Deaf people. The Convention specifically recognises the importance, and role, of sign language. It places an obligation on Governments to ensure that Deaf people have the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through the communication form of their choice, which specifically includes sign language. There is also recognition of the important role played by sign language in all areas of life, including participation in education and cultural life.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the Articles relevant to Deaf people:
  • Article 2 ­ This includes definitions relating to communication and language. The definition of language states “Language includes spoken and signed languages and other forms of non spoken languages."

  • Article 3 ­ This article covers the general principles of the Convention and specifically mentions “the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities” as well as a guarantee of “respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity."

  • Article 9 ­ This relates to participation and the responsibility of governments to promote participation, including access to communication and information. It states that governments should “provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public."

  • Article 21 ­ The aim of this article is to ensure freedom of expression and access to information, including public services and the media. According to the WFD, one of the most significant aspects of this article is the emphasis on ‘official interactions’. The article states: “Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages…and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions.” The WFD have explained the implications of this wording as follows: "…people must have the right to submit a document in sign language and to receive a response in sign language, to act and to receive information in court and police [service], to transact in offices and departments and to get consumer instruction in sign language as well as to receive treatment and others services in sign language." (WFD News, July 2007).

  • Article 21e ­ Article 21 continues by placing a responsibility on governments to recognise and promote the use of sign languages. This may have an impact on education as the use of sign language in schools would have to be promoted. Similarly, promotion also covers areas such as the media, research and general usage.

  • Article 24 ­ According to the WFD this was one of the most controversial articles as it deals with education. 24.3 (c) states “Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.”

    Part 24.4 goes on to say “In order to help ensure the realization of this right, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to employ teachers, including teachers with disabilities, who are qualified in sign language and/or Braille, and to train professionals and staff who work at all levels of education. Such training shall incorporate disability awareness and the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities."

  • Article 30 ­ The most significant part of this article is 30.4 which states "Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture."
For more information on the UN Convention, please see:

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9 August 2007 (VOL 5 WEEK 32)

Welcome Hello and welcome to another edition of our weekly news from around the Deaf world. Although our service is closed for the month of August, we will continue to provide our weekly news update.

World Federation Of The Deaf (Wfd) CongressAs many of you know the WFD congress was held in Madrid recently. Thousands of Deaf people from all over the world attended the event at the IFEMA conference centre. Over the coming weeks, we will give you a synopsis of what went on in the congress and introduce you to some of the key speakers. We will give you examples of some of the presentations that were covered on issues such as Human Rights- Linguistic and Cultural Rights/ Sign Languages/ Education/ Technology and Accessibility/ Mental Health/ Medicine ­Biotechnology and Bioethics/ Developing Countries/ Women.

The congress was opened by the Spanish Vice- President Maria Fernandez de la Vega along with Luis Canon (President of CNSE- Confederación Estatal de Personas Sordas) and Markku Jokinen (President of the WFD).

Maria Fernandez highlighted that the "wealth of a nation is measured by the well-being of its citizens, by guaranteeing more and better rights and a greater autonomy for all". She also stressed that freedom, justice, equality and autonomy must be the axes of political action and civil commitment. She went on to say how the Spanish Government approved a bill on June 19th that explicitly supports all of Spain's sign languages.

Luis Canon welcomed the attendants and was glad that the congress had given a significant prominence to the culture of the Deaf. Luis stated "we must not conform with what others say we are, we have the right to define who we are, what we want and which is our identity". He reported that "there are still many deaf persons living in marginal communities where the exercise of their rights is hindered". He asked for justice for the most vulnerable and reminded us that "we are a community that never succumbs to failure". He also pointed out that "in order to be a part of society, we must become visible".

Markku Jokinen congratulated all those involved in the extraordinary work undertaken over the past few years which had facilitated the organisation of a perfect congress. The theme of the congress was "Human Rights Through Sign Languages". Markku highlighted that "without linguistic rights, we have no human rights, and therefore the acknowledgement of sign language is a necessary prerequisite to guarantee that these rights are safeguarded throughout the world".

The official opening of the congress concluded with a visual and colourist show by Els Comediants Theatre Company and Il Grito. The cast made a journey through the life history of the deaf from the Milan Congress, when the use of sign language was banned, to the present date. All this at a rapid speed, unveiling the emotions of a common discovery to everyone present.

Some of the extracts above were taken from the daily newsletter "Daily Congress" No2 (July 17th).

For more news on the WFD congress, check out our weekly update next week.

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2 August 2007 (VOL 5 WEEK 31)

World Federartion of the Deaf (WFD) Resolutions The WFD, its Members and the participants at the 15th WFD congress agree to promote and implement the Congress Resolutions to all governments and authorities, demanding respect for the realisation of HUMAN RIGHTS THROUGHSIGN LANGUAGES.

Reaffirming that deaf people are entitled to the same human rights as all social groups and that diversity is an intrinsic factor in the Deaf Community, Recognising the importance of children and youth; deafblind; deaf with disabilities; immigrants; Indigenous peoples; Lesbians, Gays, Transgenders and Bisexuals; people in rural areas; religious minorities; senior citizens; and all deaf people as citizens of society with the same rights and obligations as other citizens, Emphasising that by adopting positive actions, equality among all will be accelerated, Emphasising that sign language is a human right for all members of the Deaf Community, including those who use assistive devices and implants, Reaffirming that multi-lingual education in sign language gives deaf and hard of hearing people the best opportunity to achieve full citizenship and enjoyment of all human rights.

WFD and its Members: Have an obligation to work together to promote government ratification andimplementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities thus assuring deaf people full attainment of all human rights on an equal basis with other citizens.

Must work together as a collective group, and those from developed countries must work in close partnership with those from developing countries. Must adopt measures to educate and to sensitise the Deaf Community about the diverse variety of peoples and cultures within the larger Deaf culture.

Must promote gender-equality programmes and policies to ensure the full development and empowerment of women, and adopt measures that combat violence and abuse against deaf women.

Have responsibility to preserve, promote and protect sign languages and cultural heritages; and to formulate language policies to empower sign language, including indigenous sign languages.

Have obligation to co-operate closely with schools and educational authorities to promote deaf children’s right to receive a multi-lingual/multi-cultural education and to implement training programmes to develop healthy identities for all deaf children, their families and CODA children.

Should also protect the rights of children with cochlear implants an other sensory modification technologies to an education in sign language.

Are responsible to sanction the employment of Deaf professionals in all fields that have an impact on the lives of Deaf people.

Must promote the development of appropriate training programmes and qualifications for sign language interpreters, and follow WFD principles of co-operation with interpreters.

Must incorporate the principles of consistent application of universal design with technological innovations of new products and services.

Must formulate a statement of Deaf bioethics concerns and priorities, and quality medical and surgical care for deaf people, based on human rights principles.

Have obligation to establish mentorship and positive leadership programmes for deaf youth, and involve them actively in political decision-making and implementation.

Have responsibility to promote employment and self-sufficiency through Deaf economic empowerment.

Are responsible to promote equal access to mental health services for all deaf people. Programmes and actions developed by WFD and its OMs must take account of all deaf people.

Special attention should be given to education in both developed and developing countries in order to eliminate any further disadvantage, which brings as a consequence unemployment, poverty, poor health and the lack of self-determination.

Education for deaf people, especially in developing countries, must be an initiative of Deaf persons from that country in order to include and impart their native sign language(s) and culture.

The linguistic and cultural rights of deaf immigrants must be respected as well as assistance provided in learning the language and culture of their new country.

Sign language interpreters are a fundamental resource in achieving human rights and full access. The term sign language interpreter is a concept inclusive not only of hearing sign language interpreters but also Deaf sign language interpreters and interpreter guides for deafblind people.

Technology and e-learning offer access to information, are vital for structured and informal learning and promote independency. The principles of universal design will ensure full communication access and fulfilment of deaf persons´ human rights.

Equal and appropriate access to mental health services, through sign language and Deaf culture and by the provisioning of Deaf professional staff, is a basic human right of deaf people.

In reference to the growing demographic of an aging population, attention must be given to programmes and services for deaf senior citizens.

Sign languages serve as vital instruments to transmit culture and knowledge.

The status and recognition of sign languages around the world will be strengthened through language policies, research and the preservation of and the teaching of sign languages. Sign languages should be a part of all national curricula.

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