Unifying Arabic Sign Language?
Can a Living Language be Standardized?
In a strongly worded statement, from June of last year, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) have expressed their concern regarding recent efforts to unify Arabic Sign Language, claiming that such a move is a violation of the linguistic human rights of Deaf People in the region.
Their objections to the unification process go back some time, in 2009 the group representing approximately 70 million deaf people worldwide, penned an open letter where it documents what it claims are efforts to unify Sign Language in Arab Countries.
Efforts for the unification of Arabic Sign Language appears to be have been underway for quite some time. In 2004, the Council of Arab Ministers for Social Affairs (CAMSA) a committee within the League of Arab States stated that the unification of Arabic Sign Language was “to meet the needs of integration of deaf persons into society” (CAMSA 2004).
How will all of this effect services for People who are Deaf or have Hearing Impairment in this region?
If the experience of the Deaf community is anything like other social and political groups, this level of discord usually results in two outcomes, first a reluctance of policy makers to enable any meaningful change, and secondly, new developments for the community will be isolated and will be difficult to disseminate as widely as is required.
Meanwhile as the debate continues, developments in IT and Telecoms infrastructure and further work on services for people who are deaf may provide independent opportunities for ordinary citizens who are deaf to play an ever growing role in Arab society, and perhaps, influence the debate directly.