‘Not recognizing sign language a challenge for people with hearing loss’

September 28, 2018 - 21:42

TEHRAN — One of the greatest challenges facing people with hearing loss is the fact that sign language is not recognized as an official language in Iran, head of Iran Society of Deaf People Family has said.

If the law recognizes sign language as an official language like other languages spoken in the country and the language is used in educating deaf people and hard of hearing people many of their problems would be solved, ISNA quoted Akram Salimi as saying on Friday. 

Salimi made the remarks on the occasion of the first United Nations International Day of Sign Languages which is celebrated annually on September 23 as part of the International Week of the Deaf running between Monday September 24 and Sunday September 30, 2018.

International Day of Sign Languages took place under the theme of ‘With Sign Language, Everyone is Included!’ 

One of the major problems confronting people with hearing loss is the limited use of sign language in educational settings which result in increasing dropout rate among this group of people, she lamented.

“In order to address this issue we have designed curriculums which suit people with hearing loss in association with literacy Movement Organization to help educate adult and youth dropouts with hearing loss,” Salimi explained. 
“We have also launched a campaign demanding recognition of sign language as an official language,” she said, adding that so far some 8,000 students with hearing loss have joined the campaign. 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted in December 2006 recognizes and promotes the use of sign languages. It makes clear that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages and obligates states parties to facilitate the learning of sign language and promote the linguistic identity of the deaf community.

According to the UN official website, the General Assembly has proclaimed September 23 as the International Day of Sign Languages in order to raise awareness of the importance of sign language in the full realization of the human rights of people who are deaf.

The resolution establishing the International Day of Sign Languages acknowledges that early access to sign language and services in sign language, including quality education available in sign language, is vital to the growth and development of the deaf individual and is critical to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals. It recognizes the importance of preserving sign languages as part of linguistic and cultural diversity. It also emphasizes the principle of “nothing about us without us” in terms of working with deaf communities. 

Hearing loss facts and figures  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates over 5 percent of the world’s population – or 466 million people – has disabling hearing loss (432 million adults and 34 million children). It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people – or one in every ten people – will have disabling hearing loss.

Disabling hearing loss refers to hearing loss greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear in adults and a hearing loss greater than 30 dB in the better hearing ear in children. The majority of people with disabling hearing loss live in low- and middle-income countries.

Based on the figures announced by the Ministry of Health in Iran congenital deafness occurs in 2.7 out of every 1,000 births. Moreover between 3 and 5 per 100 students attending school suffer deafness. 

Hearing loss may result from genetic causes, complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, the use of particular drugs, exposure to excessive noise, and ageing. It is worth noting that 60 percent of childhood hearing loss is because of preventable causes.  

Saeed Mahmoudian, director general for a hearing health program at the Ministry of Health, told ISNA news agency that in general hearing loss prevalence in Iran is equal to the global rate which is 5 percent. 

However, he warned that inter-family marriages have given rise to congenital hearing loss in some provinces such as Fars, Sistan-Baluchestan, Kermanshah, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, etc. three times above global rate. Mahmoudian regretted that genetic counselling is being overlooked in these regions. 

How people with hearing loss are being supported?

Pilot hearing screening programs are underway in at least one health center in all 31 provinces nationwide and almost 80 percent of the newborn infants are provided with screening tests in Iran, Mahmoudian highlighted.

“We are striving to provide all age groups with hearing screening programs,” he added. 

The WHO asserts that unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of U.S. $750 billion. Interventions to prevent, identify and address hearing loss are cost-effective and can bring great benefit to individuals.

People with hearing loss can benefit from early identification; use of hearing aids, cochlear implants and other assistive devices; captioning and sign language; and other forms of educational and social support, to have better living conditions.

Mahmoudian also noted that Iran’s Welfare Organization, Executing the Order of the Imam also known as Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam, charity foundations, and the Ministry of Health are collaboratively providing people with hearing loss with financial aids for cochlear implants.

Annually some 1,000 people are provided with cochlear implants which costs 600 million rials (nearly $14,000) for each patient, he said, noting that so far some 10,000 people have received cochlear implants in Iran.