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Disability Desk Coordinator of the Ministry of Human Development Speaks on the Importance of Sign Language

Belize joined the rest of the world today in marking International Day of Sign Language. It is seen as a unique opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users. Disability Desk Coordinator at the Ministry of Human Development, Marshall Nunez explained the importance of making everyday activities inclusive, including watching the evening news. He also spoke of the need to expand public services to facilitate those individuals who are hearing impaired.

Marshall Nunez, Coordinator, Disability Desk, Ministry of Human Development: “It’s the first time in Belize that we are ever commemorating International Sign Language Day. It is celebrated on the 23rd of September each year and this year the theme is “We sign for human rights.” so it is very important that we pay attention that this year in Belize especially with the renaissance of activities and involvement of persons with disabilities. We’re hoping to get the interpreters accredited and licensed because this is gonna be formal. So although we wanted to have done it quickly we are delayed but we will get it right. Belize needs to come on board with the rest of the world in terms of the inclusive language. Sign language is very important. The police needs interpreters, the courts need interpreters, the hospitals need interpreters because people who are deaf when they go to the doctor or they become entangled with the law or even the courts they need to be able to express themselves and so there is a great need for that. We are hoping that through the efforts of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education that we can accredited and license those that are available now but there also has to be training for others because this is going to be continuous. The people over at NARSI has done training in the past, they have a complete module and a manual for training and so we’re hoping that within the very near future that we could offer training for others so that the pool of interpreters will increase.”

Special education teacher, Sheree Thurton added that her experience underscores the necessity of having trained individuals in the classrooms nationwide.

Sheree Thurton, Special Education Teacher and Interpreter, Nazarene High School: “I think because of our I guess you could say talent or skills NARSI I guess decided to start or I should say hand in hand with Stella Maris started to prepare the students from Stella Maris for PSE and after that I think they started to send out letters to different high schools and which ever high school accepts them then that’s where they go and here at Nazarene High School I’m blessed because Nazarene always accepts these children and this is where I got the experience and a lot of practice with the deaf students and I’ve learnt a lot because here you have to just keep going, you have to learn more because every day you learn sign language you don’t know everything in sign language but because of these children you have to keep on your game ,you have to keep studying, you have to keep researching you have to keep just going because you want the best for them, you want them to know that yes I’m here to help you succeed and so far there is about five students that graduated thus far so I’m proud to be part of that. The other thing is we had to learn their way of signing not all deaf people sign the same. So we have to sit observe and then interpret for them. So that’s another thing we have to learn how to translate you want to say lessons or anything in sign language based on their way of communicating.”

According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are more than seventy million deaf people worldwide. More than eight percent of them live in developing countries. Collectively, they use more than three hundred different sign languages.