Since learning of the World Federation of the Deaf and their World Congresses at the timid age of 14, I had made it my life mission to go to a Congress.
15 years, 21+ hours of travelling, an overnight trip to Gallipoli and 2 days of exploring Istanbul later…
I had finally made it to the XVII World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf!
The Congress began on Tuesday 28th July 2015 at the Istanbul Congress Centre (İstanbul Kongre Merkezi). The Opening Ceremony consisted of speeches by Colin Allen (WFD President), Markku Jokinen (Honorary WFD President & EUD President) and various important people and Turkish entertainment.
The Turkish Minister for Disability and Aging picked a perfect time to announce the Turkish Government’s plan to fund the development of Turkish Sign Language dictionary. This is wonderful for Turkey, and certainly the right step in recognising the importance of sign language.
My favourite part was the Whirling Dervishes — what an elegant performance! If you ever visit Turkey, this is something not to be missed — be it in a restaurant or a cultural show.
Dr Liisa Kauppinen (Honorary WFD President and winner of 2013 Human Rights Award) delivered an inspirational yet sobering speech about Deaf people and Human Rights. She was the Keynote presenter for the WFD Congress, and they couldn’t have picked a better person than her.
Dr. Kauppinen spoke of the importance of including Deaf people in human diversity and humanity. She reminded us that the purpose of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is to include people with disabilities in human diversity. Diversity needs to be respected so our lives and planet can be protected.
Kauppinen said that discrimination laws also pertain to Deaf people in the same manner, yet we are rarely considered in that context — what a sobering statement. This made me think of the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) as it intends to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination in Australia, yet it does not fully protect Australians who are D/deaf & hard of hearing. That being said, DDA needs to be revised and updated accordingly to the UN CRPD, in which Australia ratified in 2007.
Persons with disabilities are usually not considered as a part of human diversity due to fear of difference, which is rather considerable in our societies. Accepting persons with disabilities into our societies will enable them to become included in the human diversity. Kauppinen stated that fear and intolerance of difference and the need to homogenise have reduced the abundance of diversity in the world.
The paradigm of viewing deafness through the medical model was challenged by Kauppinen. This is certainly something I have never thought of and has given me a new understanding of the said paradigm. Kauppinen talked about how preferentialism is a challenge of strengthening human diversity.
Sign language hasn’t had much luck in being included in human diversity. Kauppinen stressed on how we should not accept the way sign language is controlled in our country — it is OUR language.
Jess nailed this statement:
— Jess Moody (@msjmoody) July 28, 2015
Embrace Auslan, indeed!
Kauppinen stated that language is an instrument of power. I wrote a paper about how sign language can be empowering last semester — I hope to be able to expand on it and turn it into a proper research paper someday soon!
An interesting question from Kauppinen:
— David Gibson (@DaveFGibson) July 28, 2015
Something to ponder about. Sign language linguists, I’d love to hear from you!
Kauppinen talked about the representation of women in WFD, as it is difficult for females to access education in many countries. She said we need to invest in women in order to strengthen and advance the implementation of human rights for all. We are encouraged to use women as worthy resources they are.
The variety of the Deaf community enriches us, and discriminating against these weakens us. – Dr. Liisa #WFD2015
— Jess Moody (@msjmoody) July 28, 2015
All human beings are equal in divinity and rights – Kauppinen #WFD2015
— Sherrie Beaver (@isigniwander) July 28, 2015
Kauppinen talked about the importance of WFD Youth Section (WFDYS), and how Deaf children and youth are our future. She said that the Deaf youth is a new strong knowledge generation who have obtained better education have more work and responsibilities in human rights.
I did not realise the CRPD encourages a paradigm shift until Kauppinen mentioned it. She said that it encourages a paradigm shift from paternalism to respect and from a medical model to a human rights approach. Something to keep in mind!
Kauppinen finished off her keynote presentation by quoting the UN:
Kauppinen quoted the UN: The future of humanity and our planet, and indeed the miracle of the world’s diversity lies in our hands. #WFD2015
— Robert Adam (@rejadam) July 28, 2015
Colin Allen had an incredible idea. However, it took him over one year to persuade Dr. Kauppinen. Colin’s idea finally came to fruition after Dr. Kauppinen agreed to it. The idea was the Dr. Liisa Kauppinen Fund. This fund will empower the Deaf community worldwide and Deaf women. What an incredible honour for Dr. Liisa Kauppinen! This fund will benefit the global Deaf community in so many ways. They couldn’t have picked a better time than the Opening Ceremony to unveil the fund. I am excited to see what it will bring the global Deaf community in the long run.
— Colin Allen (@WFDPresident) July 28, 2015
The Opening Ceremony ended on a high note. I knew this was going to be a great Congress!
Day 2 began with two plenary presenters:
- Ms. Hend Alshowaier (Saudi Arabia) for Commission on Human Rights.
- Mr, Soya Mori (Japan) for Commission on Sign Language and Deaf Culture.
I don’t want to turn this post into a novel — it’s probably well on its way, though! So I’ll be embedding all tweets from each presentation I saw at the Congress.
— Genie Gertz (@GenieGertz) July 29, 2015
Deaf ppl face discrimination and barriers which restricts them from equality & participating in society – Alshowaier #WFD2015
— Sherrie Beaver (@isigniwander) July 29, 2015
— Sherrie Beaver (@isigniwander) July 29, 2015
Australia is one of those countries — our DDA needs to be updated to comply with the CRPD and most importantly include Deaf/HoH Australians and Auslan.
WFD says that approximately 80% of 70 million deaf/hard of hearing people do not have access to education. This breaks my heart. We should not take education for granted, knowing that so many Deaf people out there cannot access quality education.
Alshowaier stated that sign language promotes linguistic identity. Did you know that Deaf children are punished for using sign language in Saudi Arabia? I most certainly did not know that! Imagine my shock when Alshowaier said that.
In Australia, the national curriculum is currently being developed and Auslan is included.
Deaf Australia said it was happy with the inclusion of Australian Sign Language (Auslan) in the curriculum. “We believe every deaf child has the right to communicate in the way that suits them best, and for many deaf children, this means being bilingual in both English and Auslan,” Deaf Australia Executive Officer Karen Lloyd said in a statement. “The announcement brings up a step closer to realizing this goal for young deaf Australians and will change how Auslan and deaf people are perceived by a new generation of Australians, both deaf and hearing,” she added. Source
A giant step for Auslan-kind! This relates to Alshowaier’s statement about inclusive education = accessible environment for deaf children by providing full access to sign language, as this is the way they learn. Few more points from Alshowaier:
- Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a professional interpreter training program at university level.
- Deaf women have the right to education, employment, vocational training and access to health care services.
- Deaf Palestinians have very low literacy skills.
Soya Mori’s presentation was on “Diversity or Universalism for the Deaf, from researches in developing countries.” Mori’s presentation was quite heavy and rather difficult to watch, so I relied on tweets from others to get the gist of it.
— Hilde Haualand (@hildemh) July 29, 2015
I chose to watch most of the Human Rights breakout session and they were highly educational, especially in politics.
First one was:
Making Legislation Work for Deaf People – Jeff Brattan-Wilson (UK).
This was particularly educational, as deaf people often have difficulties understanding legislation and how the legal system works. What rings true in Australia and all over the world is that young deaf people find it difficult to access legal advice services. Deaf people generally have simplistic views of how the legal system might work, according to Brattan-Wilson.
Brattan-Wilson mentioned that when deaf people are faced with grammatically complex sentences, they try to find familiar words to build meaning around it. The legal system consists of jargons and terminologies we are not familiar with and often uses high-level English skills.
Brattan-Wilson stressed on the importance of having a foundation of good knowledge and information to become self-sustaining. This means we need to be educated about the legal system, to be able to obtain information in the most effective way possible and to be aware of our rights so we can make the right choices.
Providing advice and information for deaf people cannot be delivered in the same way as hearing people. Interestingly, Brattan-Wilson mentioned that if a hearing person doesn’t know the information, then the deaf person assumes there is nothing available for them.
Points on making legislation work for Deaf people (Brattan-Wilson):
- Factor in additional time
- Apply information using everyday lives
- Always include cultural aspects
- Try to deliver information/training from native sign language users to sign language users
Empowering Deaf Communities through Political Participation & Inclusion – Anais Keenon from International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
I loved this presentation, and I may have included the Australian Electoral Commission in some of my tweets, but they didn’t respond…buggers!
The purpose of International Foundation for Electoral Systems is to support citizens right to participate in free and fair elections. Keenon said political participation is important because it assists the government to influence the society. This means we should VOTE at every election. If you’re not enrolled to vote, then do it now — head over to aec.gov.au and Bob’s your uncle!
Keenon stated that deaf communities have the right to participate in politics — damn right, we do! I know many Deaf people out there are thinking “what’s the point?”. If you’re disheartened by the Abbott Government (I know I am!), then now’s the time to do something about it.
Voter information and political messages from candidates, political parties and the election management body (in our case, Australian Electoral Commission) are not inclusive or accessible, according to Kennon. However, Australian Electoral Commission has a guide to enrolling and voting in Federal elections and referendums in Auslan, which is great but there is so much more information that needs to be accessible.
I’m pretty sure the EMB in NSW and Victoria have similar videos.
Anyways, back to Keenon!
Keenon said that poll workers do not know how to communicate with deaf voters. This is very true, however, at last year’s Victorian state election, Auslan interpreters were allocated to major polling centres across Melbourne. A fantastic step in ensuring accessibility during election time. I hope the AEC does the same for next year’s election! According to Keenon, lack of interpreters available at election stations puts deaf people off from asking questions so they vote blind.
Keenon showed us strategies to empower deaf people in political participation:
- Coordinate with disability advocacy groups
- Work with all groups involved in the election process
- Share information with other deaf communities
It is critical to ensure the deaf community is capable of participating in politics especially at election time so we can make informed votes come election time.
I’m looking at you Australian Labor Party, Liberals and Greens. Include us by making your messages accessible in Auslan so we can go into our local polling stations armed with knowledge and information so we can vote for a better Australia.
Deaf Politicans Around the Globe – Ideas and Ways Forward: Helene Jarmer (Austria).
Helene Jarmer has been a Member of Austrian Parliament since 2009, and she has access to sign language interpreters at all times through her work. Impressive!
Jarmer stresses on the importance of having a good relationship with govts so you can influence & explain what needs to be changed #wfd2015
— Sherrie Beaver (@isigniwander) July 29, 2015
According to Jarmer, the number of deaf politicians around the world is rising and only few deaf people have managed to reach leading positions in their parties. The European Parliament has some Deaf members, which is rather impressive.
I’ll stop here for now and continue Day 2 in the next post.