The Sign - Daily Nation

The Sign

Wednesday March 20 2013

Eight interesting facts about the code

1. There are about 600,000 known sign language speakers in Kenya — both deaf and hearing. However, since not all of them are registered, there could be many more, using perhaps cruder forms of the language, scattered all over the country.

2. The alphabet in sign language is easy to learn. Once you have mastered that, you can finger-spell any name. The same goes for the roman numerals.

3. In America, the Great Plains Indians developed a fairly extensive system of signing, more for intertribal communication than for deaf people, and only vestiges of it remain today. Sign language is now the fourth most-used language in the US and some similarities still exist between Indian sign language and present-day ASL. This means that KSL too might bear similarities to Indian sign language.

4. Deaf History Month is observed from March 13 to April 15 every year, so take some time to learn a sign or two.

5. There are hundreds of sign language dialects in use around the world. Each culture has developed its own form of sign language to be compatible with the language spoken in that country.

In Kenya, however, because the sign language is basically an adaptation of American sign language, few non-hearing and hearing sign language users can sign in Kiswahili or mother tongue.

A Kenyan sign language dictionary was published in 1991 with the help of the UN Peace Corp Volunteers, who have recently developed an interactive digital dictionary — all you have to do is search for the word and the gesture appears.

6. The Kenya National Association of the Deaf (KNAD) is a national non-governmental organisation formed and managed by deaf people. It was established in 1986 and registered in 1987 under the Societies Act. KNAD is also an ordinary member of the World Federation of the Deaf.

7. There are other organisations that cater for the deaf in Kenya. They include the Kenya Sign language Interpreters Association (KSLIA), Humble Hearts School in Nairobi, Kisii School for the Deaf, and Kenya Christian School for the Deaf, Oyugis, where KSL is the language of instruction.

8. Humble Hearts School is Kenya’s first bilingual sign school where KSL and English are taught on an equal footing. Kedowa School for the Deaf in Kericho District also uses KSL for instruction and is unique among deaf schools in Kenya in that more than half of the teachers at the school are deaf themselves.

Signers of note

Michael Ndurumo of Moi University was the third deaf African to attain a PhD. He is only partially deaf but uses sign language all the time and is said to be strict about grammar, even in Kenyan sign language.

Actress Marlee Matlin has acted in numerous movies and TV series, some of them to educate people about the plight of the deaf.

Sean Berdy is a deaf American actor and comedian and currently stars in Switched at Birth, playing the role of Emmett Bledsoe — Marlee Matlin’s son.

Signmark, a deaf rapper from Finland, is now a full-time employee of the Finnish government and a UN ambassador who goes around the world advocating the rights of the deaf and raising awareness about the need for the hearing to learn sign language.

Douglas and Alfie are Kenya’s first known deaf rappers and, just like Signmark, they work with hearing partners and have between them recorded seven songs, two of which have videos.

Where to learn how to sign

It is only fair that, as a hearing person, you learn the language of the non-hearing, just as the non-hearing have learned the language of the hearing.

You never know when it will come in handy. You might find yourself between a policeman and a deaf person trying to explain/prove his innocence. You will have saved him a trip to the jail, and possibly, many nights in it.

Sometimes even the hearing are rendered deaf by loud noises. Where no technology can be employed immediately, sign language would work wonders.

If you learn sign language, every time you see the deaf fighting for their rights, you will understand what they are going through.

Even the military have their own form of sign language. When in battle, and to avoid attracting the attention of their enemies, they will signal each other using a series of hand gestures.

Until the government decides to make it a compulsory subject in both lower and higher education institutions, you are restricted to, among other ways, hiring a private teacher.

Churches like Our Lady of Guadaloupe at Adams Arcade, Nairobi, teach sign language for about Sh6,000. The course is taught by a two-person team — one deaf, one hearing. Basic courses run for about three months, depending on the individual.

The University of Nairobi offers a six-month sign language course for about Sh50,000, at the completion of which you get a certificate.

If you learn best alone, there are numerous YouTube videos online, as well as sign language dictionaries (like, if specific words are what you are looking for. Or, if you can, spend time with deaf people and endeavour to sign a new word every day.

Schools teaching sign language

  • Reverend Muhoho Secondary School, Karatina — an inclusive school that caters for both hearing and deaf students.
  • Kuja Primary School, Nyanza.
  • Tumutumu School for the Deaf, Mathira.
  • Kerugoya Primary School for the Deaf.
  • Nyangoma School for the Deaf.
  • Humble Hearts School, Nairobi.
  • Kenya Christian School for the Deaf, Oyugis.
  • Kisii School for the Deaf.