Deaf people tend to
be among the poorest in most countries.
All over the world,
sign languages are, or have previously been, regarded as inferior to spoken languages,
and the deaf people are viewed as mentally disabled.
In fact, their only disability is that they cannot hear,
and their sign
languages are just as rich, varied and complex as any
This misunderstanding has caused
deaf people to be marginalized or excluded from the
society, which is absolutely unnecessary. Sign language
users are not mentally disabled, they just use their
hands and eyes to communicate rather than using their voices
How may this
misconception have begun?
A hearing child learns a spoken language by just listening since
their infancy. The hearing child, therefore, learns the
spoken language from the people surrounding the child.
In constrast, a deaf child does not
hear the spoken language. The parents are usually
hearing and do not know any sign language. The child
therefore doesn't learn any language at all and becomes
frustrated to be unable to express its thoughts,
feelings or wishes. The adults in turn cannot rear the
child nor guide it socially or culturally.
deaf children without any language grow up to adults
regarded as "mentally disabled people". Actually, the
hearing majority being unaware about the importance of
early language input, have caused the fully normal deaf
child to grow up into an adult unable to interact
normally in its society.
Humans need a language input immediately after birth to
develop optimally, by listening or seeing even if they
have not yet begun to learn to speak or sign. So what
those deaf children really need, is to be exposed by
natural sign languages early to acquire a mean of
But in many
countries, there is usually only a little, or no
information about the deaf people, their sign
languages and their needs so it is difficult to know
where to start, and how, to give them access to the
native sign languages in that country, and to increase
their livelihoods in various ways.
For Papua New Guinea, there is no information about:
the estimated number of deaf people
- how many of them use natural sign language vs.
simple home signs vs. lack any language
- their localities
- the number of natural sign languages and their areas
- any deaf community, association or club
could anyone possibly initiate projects for the deaf without
access to this fundamental background information?
A deaf woman in a remote montane village. She was never
exposed to any sign languge, and has therefore grown up
to an adult without any language.
Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province.
A deaf class in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province.