Archive for the ‘Notable Filipino Helping the Deaf’ Category

This is a re-post from the Facebook note of one of my dear friend Vanessa Urbantke who is currently doing a swell job helping deaf people in Bicol, Philippines. I requested her if I can put it here in my blog and she gladly accepted. 🙂


Bengkala Community

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a small village in northern Bali, Indonesia. The place sparked my interest after a Google search the previous evening, where I read that those living in the village carried genes that gave rise to hereditary deafness and a rather large population of deaf people. I wanted to see this community and learn about their own unique sign language, Kata Kolok (Deaf talk), which was used by the Deaf and hearing alike. I did not know that my experience would be so much more enriching that previously anticipated, and that my experiences with hearing people along the way would help me understand the linguistic complexities facing the Deaf community.

I am not a sign language interpreter, but I have many Deaf friends and sometimes, I am called to help get the message across. Over the years, I have been witness to their struggles and even started to think I had come to truly understand their situation. There are times when I find the ignorance and indifference of hearing people hurtful and offending. Yet there is nothing more effective than learning from experience. I would like to think that if we all had a chance to be different for a day that we would be more accommodating as a society for people with disabilities and for people who are from minority groups.

As a multilingual hearing person with English as my first language, I never experience difficulty in accessing information in my own language the same way the Deaf do. When I ask a question, I usually get a good answer. There is always someone around who can explain things, and always someone I can talk to. When someone does not understand me, it is usually quite easy to find someone who does. My friends are not as fortunate – very few hearing people know any sign language beyond the common gestures, which has adverse effects on employment opportunities, quality of education, and also limits the depth of friendship outside of the Deaf community. Just as I had trouble connecting with the hearing Balinese when they did not speak English, the same goes for a Deaf person in a hearing society. This tragedy means that we miss out on each other. A hearing mother who never has a meaningful conversation with her Deaf daughter should be something we can all lament over. A deaf student who sits for years in a classroom with hearing pupils, never having experienced the richness of Deaf friendships and what it means to truly understand should be something we all disapprove of.

As a hearing person with many Deaf friends, I deeply enjoy the community and sense of belongingness that when with them. It is a special feeling to be in the silent crowd yet also be connected to those around you, however unknowing the others may be. Yet this feeling of isolation, what I deem as special, is an everyday reality for my friends. I never realized how difficult of a reality this really is until recently. Perhaps it is because I have forgotten about my early days in the Philippines, which was a half-baked experience as it was because of the widespread prevalence of English in all aspects of life.

I learned a lot more than a handful of Kata Kolok signs and Indonesian words in Desa Bengkala. My experience has helped me to reflect on my years of working with the Deaf and has enabled me to understand their struggles in a completely new light. To be misunderstood is one of the worst feelings in this world. It is a dehumanizing feeling, one that leaves us hurt and angered yet helpless to express any of those feelings. To be shut out of the lives of others, to remain on the fringe of family affairs and public life simply because of differences in language is an immense tragedy. From the standpoint of English, even in a place where people do not speak it, the language itself still gets respect. But in the case of the deaf in the rural Philippines, sometimes their language is dismissed altogether. Language is what makes a people, and for the Deaf, it is Filipino Sign Language that they hold pride in, it is what gives them their identity and it is the language in which they can best access information and express themselves. Failure to recognize Filipino Sign Language has a negative impact on all aspects of a Deaf person’s life, whether at school, in the workplace, or at home. Of course, a day in Desa Bengkala did not allow me to experience all the complexities of language access, but it did help me feel more empathetic towards the Deaf community.

Reflections on Interpreting

When I arrived at the village, the first thing the motorbike driver did was to help me find someone who speaks English. We went from house to house, and in each house I stood in the doorway or sat on a floor mat completely lost in translation. I would not have been able to tell if they were plotting to poison my drinking water or were truly sincere in helping me. Luckily, it was the latter. After a few tries, we found a guy who knew a few more English words, not just “no”. We did not very far though, and soon I decided it would be best to hang out with the kids since playing was more of a requirement than talking. I really went to the village to visit the Deaf people, who at the time of my arrival were at a funeral. I did not have anything really important to say to any of the hearing people, so failure to find a decent interpreter was more of a nuisance and not a big deal at all.

However, on the bus ride back to the south, I had an encounter with the bus driver. He was coming onto me, asking me constantly in the only broken English that he knew, “you, me, hotel later.” I brushed it off at first, until he started pushing up against me physically and staring at my chest in the cramped seat. I knew that we were headed to a desolate bus terminal at the end of the line, and he knew that I did not know my way around. People on the bus were looking at him in a very disapproving manner, the women almost upset yet not ready to speak out. No one spoke English, and I found myself limited to gesture in trying to explain the situation. When I did this, the man would laugh and talk over me, and people would answer back. I understood nothing beyond the tone of their voices and the looks exchanged, and it was enraging. After a day in the village, I was armed with only a few fitting words that had stuck in my memory: “gila (crazy)” and “Saya tidak mau kamu (I don’t like you)”. Correct or not, I was understood. Yet simply calling this man crazy and telling him that I did not like him was not even close to what I wanted to say. I was not expecting a good English speaker to pop up out of nowhere, but had one been on the bus, it would have given me a lot more power and made me a lot less weary of the whole situation.

This is exactly what many Deaf people experience in their daily lives – the lack of skilled interpreters disables them. Without a decent interpreter, proper exchange of information is not possible. Oftentimes, I am hesitant to interpret. I do not refuse, but I somehow always feel that I will not do justice to the job. But now, looking back at my experience on the public bus in Bali, perhaps I should put more effort into it – not many hearing people know sign language where I live.

And just to let you know, I ended up getting off of the bus before arriving at the terminal, and I never saw Agong Rai after that.

While being unable to speak Indonesian was a disadvantage, I really only spent 3 hours with people I was not able to exchange a decent word with, and that pales in comparison to those who endure this for a lifetime. Yet even though it was for a mere few hours and the experience rather enjoyable and interesting, I looked back on it the day after and thought to myself, “now this is what my friends have been telling me for years – this is how they feel”. Comfort in Community

Ultimately, it was the Deaf residents of Desa Bengkala with whom I connected with the most. Language barriers across different sign languages are a lot easier to overcome than those in spoken languages, so it was not that difficult to have a decent conversation. Even if some was downgraded to gesture, at least it was a colorful mime of sorts that was well understood and enjoyed.

Many Deaf families took the time to bring me to their houses, to let me peak into their daily lives and share a cup of tea. I watched the sun rise while seated on a wooden bench outside the kitchen, a fire burning to cook the day’s rice. I visited the school of their children and sorted fragrant cloves with the women under a tarp in the early morning sun. It was a short and sweet visit, one pleasant enough for me to hold it in my memory as an idealistic community where the Deaf were included and respected.

One of my most memorable moments from the village was when we shared a juicy red watermelon on the living room floor. I was sitting there with six deaf people from three generations. They were telling me about an upcoming Hindu festival in October and how I should stay for it. One girl told me, “We will all go the beach and take pictures together with your camera!” In a moment of silence, we all glanced up at the television. The woman next to me asked me, “do you understand that?” I said that I did not, and they laughed for they did not understand it either.
There is no need for us to remain apart, separated. We all have our own abilities and disabilities. Being deaf is only a disability because most people can hear. When a hearing person is placed amidst a group of signing Deaf people and their eyes fail to understand the words dancing in the air, they become disabled. Disability is a social construct, and if such differences would become widespread, we would eventually adjust and emerge as a more accommodating and accepting society than what we are today. And so it is, in the hills of northern Bali there is a small unassuming village that we all have a lot to learn from.

Mural for Ma'am Ellen

To our beloved Ma’am Ellen:
As one of the outstanding pillars of Filipino Deaf Education,
we greatly salute you for all the wonderful works and passion you have
shared with us. You have truly inspired us to serve the Filipino Deaf.
We would surely miss you. But we are also contented believing
that you are now together with our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ!
You will always be remembered in our hearts! 🙂
from MCCID College of Technology and Esposa Family

Long before the establishments of Deaf Evangelistic Alliance Foundation in Cavinti, Laguna, Philippine Institute for the Deaf Oral School, CAP College for the Deaf, College of St. Benilde and MCCID…  long before the Filipino Sign Language noise and deaf culture recognition… long before the empowerment of the Filipino Deaf…  there is one wonderful woman who took the burden of sharing God’s love and care for the deaf youth…

We greatly salute you Ma’am Ellen Castillo of Bible Institute for the Deaf. You will surely be missed.

 

This is a repost from Business Mirror.

THE regional office of the Department of Health (DOH) started on Wednesday training health-care providers on Basic Filipino Sign Language (BFSL) for them to use in communicating and understanding patients in health-care facilities with hearing disabilities.

“This is the first phase of our development program for our health workers who are involved with patients with disabilities [PWDs]. We want to make health services to better serve those who have disabilities and make it easier for them to go to a health center and tell a health worker what they need without worries,” Regional Director Eduardo Janairo said.

Janairo said the training will also increase their knowledge and understanding about PWDs and how they can improve their attitudes towards patients who are disabled.

“These improvements are not so difficult or expensive to do. All we need is determination and dedication and the proper skill to make it possible,” Janairo emphasized.

The first batch of trainees will be provided with a module that will familiarize them with the basic signs for communication with deaf patients. These includes the alphabet, numbers, greetings, time, days, months and commonly asked questions inside the emergency room. After memorizing simple gestures and facial expressions, trainees can interact with hearing impaired patients.

Among the 25 participants included in the training are health workers from the Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Philippine Heart Center, Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Las Piñas General and Satellite Trauma Center, San Lorenzo Ruiz Women’s Hospital, Valenzuela Medical Center,  San Lazaro Hospital, Ospital ng Makati, Mandaluyong City Medical Center, Philippine General Hospital and Region 4A.

Media practitioners from the Philippine News Agency, Philippine Information Agency, LOQAL.ph-Filquest Media Concepts and Public Information Office of Marikina were also invited to join the training.

The DOH-NCR launched the first BFSL Module for Health Workers on November 13, 2012, with the objective of educating health workers with basic sign language for them to better communicate and understand deaf patients in their care.

It was developed through the support of the University of the University of the Philippines-PGH, CAP College for the Deaf, De La Salle University’s College of Saint Benilde and the Department of Education-National Capital Region.

Janairo said health workers provide treatment and care to many people daily and some patients are not fortunate to communicate the normal way.

“We want to help the patient but we do not speak his language and he on his part cannot convey to us what he needs. Some of these patients are not accompanied by relatives. That is why it is imperative for us educate ourselves with their language to be able to communicate with them and give them the proper health care treatment,” he added

“We will extend this training to all health providers in the region until most health workers are taught how to communicate using signs. This skill is essential as we do not want to commit errors and prescribe the wrong treatment just because we lack the knowledge to communicate with our patients,” Janairo added.

 

This a re-post from an Inquirer.net article which appeared last December 1. It clearly explains what Filipino Sign Language is all about courtesy of our FSL Guru, Dr. Liza Martinez. Enjoy!!!

What are sign languages?

Common misconceptions:

Signing is universal.

Signing is gesture or only pantomime.

Sign languages are based on spoken languages.

Sign languages have been demonstrated to be true languages at par with spoken languages.  Spoken languages are based on classes of sound, while sign languages are built from visual units. There are over a hundred sign languages currently recognized around the world.

The fundamental unit of structure is the Handshape, along with the other parameters of Location, Movement, Palm Orientation and Nonmanual signal. These are further organized into units which carry meaning, and then, sentences and discourse.

Sign languages have no written systems and are governed by purely visually motivated grammatical devices found in the Nonmanual signals of the face and body.

How do sign languages differ from sign systems?

Sign languages arise and grow naturally across time, within communities of persons with hearing loss. A sign language is not intrinsic to children with hearing loss but is among the set of learned behaviors within the community that is shared, nurtured and passed on.

Sign languages possess their own structure distinct from spoken and written languages.

Sign systems, on the other hand, are considered artificial since they did not arise spontaneously but were purposively created as educational tools in the development of literacy.  Artificial sign systems follow the structure and grammar of spoken and written languages.

What is Filipino Sign Language (FSL)?

Common misconceptions about Filipino Sign Language:

It is based on Filipino.

It is based on English.

It is the “same” as American Sign Language.

Like other legitimate visual languages, FSL has a hierarchy of linguistic structure based on a manual signal supplemented by additional linguistic information from Nonmanual signals of the face and body. It is the ordered and rule-governed visual communication which has arisen naturally and embodies the cultural identity of the Filipino community of signers.

It shows internal structure distinct from spoken and written languages, and other visual languages, and possesses productive processes, enabling it to respond to numerous current and emerging communication needs.

It reflects rich regional diversity in its vocabulary and bears a historical imprint of language change over time since the early beginnings of manual communication in the 16th century in Leyte.

From the lexicostatistical analysis of field data by the Philippine Federation of the Deaf (PFD), possible varieties have so far been proposed: an Eastern Visayas group (Leyte variety) and a Southern Luzon group (Southern Tagalog, Bicol and Palawan varieties).

FSL bears the historical imprint of heavy language pressure from contact with American Sign Language since the start of the century, as well as with Manually Coded English since the 1970s.

In 2004, sign linguist Liza Martinez called attention to the massive and abrupt change of the core vocabulary of FSL, which has resulted from this linguistic pressure. The PFD historical analysis in 2007 used the lexicostatistical approach and verified vocabulary elements of indigenous as well as foreign origin.

Distinguished sign linguist James Woodward has been at the forefront of pioneering research to protect endangered indigenous sign languages (including FSL) and stem the strong tide of influence from foreign sign languages and sign systems.

Who are the Filipino deaf?

These are Filipinos who have hearing loss, including those who lost their hearing early or late in life (late-deafened adults, senior citizens), the hard of hearing, those with other impairments such as the deafblind, those who communicate orally, unschooled deaf, LGBT deaf, deaf indigenous peoples and so on.

Who are  the Filipino Deaf?

They are   deaf Filipinos who use, share, nurture and promote common values (including their visual language and cultural identity) as a claim for human rights and self-determination.

How are FSL and American Sign Language related?

FSL belongs to the branch of visual languages influenced by American Sign Language together with, for example, Thai Sign Language and Kenyan Sign Language. However, the structure of FSL has changed significantly enough for it to be considered a distinct language from American Sign Language.

There is substantial evidence of widespread FSL changes in the following:

Overall form, internal structure (particularly on the inventory of handshapes and accompanying phonological processes)

Sign formation or morphological processes (such as affixation, compounding, numeral incorporation, lexicalization of finger spelling, inflections and others)

Classifier predication, grammatical features and transformational rules, enabling it to generate infinite forms of surface structure from patterns of deep structure

What is the legal basis for House Bill No. 6079?

The bill is known as “An Act Declaring Filipino Sign Language as the National Sign Language of the Filipino Deaf and the Official Language of Government in All Transactions Involving the Deaf, and Mandating Its Use in Schools, Broadcast Media and Workplaces.”

The State is duty-bound internationally and domestically to legislate HB 6079 or other laws written in the same spirit.  International commitments include its ratification of UN core treaties, e.g. the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the signing by the Philippines of the 1994 Salamanca Statement on Special Needs Education.

Department of Education (DepEd) policies include the 1997 specific guidelines on the use of FSL  as the medium of instruction for students with hearing impairment. Recent or proposed DepEd policies, such as those for Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education, the K-12 bill and the Early Years Act, already incorporate principles of full accessibility, inclusion and participation of children with disabilities.

Is this legal recognition of a national sign language taking place  only in the Philippines?

No. Forty-four countries are reported to have various levels of formal recognition for their sign languages, from constitutional status to specific legislation, polices or guidelines.

Sign language recognition continues to be an area of active lobbying with the government for Deaf communities worldwide, which invoke their right to language and communication in all aspects of their lives.

How much research has been done on FSL?

Rosalinda Macaraig Ricasa, the first Filipino hearing sign-language linguist who trained at the renowned Deaf institution, Gallaudet University (Washington), first presented in the late 1980s the observation of a possibly unique sign language in the Philippines, distinct from American Sign Language.

In 1990, Liza Martinez, the second Filipino hearing sign-language linguist who trained at the same Deaf university, conducted the first linguistic inquiry in the country. Since that time, over 80 studies on the structure and use of FSL have been undertaken and published or presented in local and international forums.

These span the fields of sign language linguistics, history, Philippine studies, literature and culture, lexicography and corpus, sign language interpreting, translation studies, language policy, education, early childhood development, human rights and machine intelligence/sign language recognition.

The Philippine Federation of the Deaf was the lead for the National Sign Language Committee, which produced the Status Report on the Use of Sign Language in the Philippines (with principal support from the Gallaudet University Alumni Association through the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund) and the Practical Dictionaries Project, a four-country study with Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong through the support of  Nippon Foundation.

Trainers for the latter project were Dr. James Woodward,

Dr. Yutaka Osugi (a Deaf sign linguist from Japan) and

Dr. Liza Martinez.

How are deaf children taught in public schools?

The National Sign Language Committee collected and evaluated videotape samples of over 150 hearing teachers in nine regions. The data show typically Sign Supported Speech or Simultaneous Communication (i.e., speaking and signing at the same time). The most frequent use of the spoken language is English, mixed with either Filipino or Cebuano.

Will HB 6079 hinder the development of literacy?

No. Section 4 (1) of the bill states that the reading and writing of Filipino, other Philippine languages and English shall still also be taught.  For a bilingual-bicultual goal in Deaf education, the first language (L1) is a fully accessible visual language (i.e., FSL), and the second language (L2) is a written language.

Shall the legal recognition of FSL as the national sign language conflict with individual autonomy?

No. A fundamental principle of the UNCRPD is individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices (Article 3.a).

On education, Article 24.3 emphasizes that “States Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community. To this end, States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including:

(b) Facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community;

(c) Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.”

Part (b) is a clear directive to facilitate and promote the linguistic identity of the community (i.e., FSL).  Notable is the use of the word “including” in the first paragraph (meaning, it is not exclusive) for the directive to promote this linguistic identity.

Part (c) instructs the State to make sure that schools, in pursuit of their goals and mandates, offer education that is appropriate and maximizes academic and social development.  This appears to give schools latitude in the choice and delivery through the use of various languages,  modes and means.  However, these must satisfy the requirements for fully inclusive education and maximum development.

Article 21.b directs the State to guard the freedom of expression and access to information of persons with disabilities of all forms of communication “of their choice,” while also recognizing and promoting the use of sign languages (21.e).

The most critical point here is State responsibility.  The party to the convention is the Philippine state and not any stakeholder. The State must, therefore, clearly demonstrate that it is carrying out its duty to facilitate and promote the linguistic and cultural identity of the community (Articles 21.b, e; 24.3.b, 30.4) and provide full accessibility through sign language interpretation (Article 9.2.e). Articles 21.b and 24.3.c in no way diminish State commitment to clearly promote and protect sign language and deaf culture.

What will happen if HB 6079 does not become a law?

State responsibility remains clear and does not change. It shall still need to demonstrate how it is implementing Articles 21.b, e,  24.3.b,  30.4 and 9.2.e of the UNCRPD. It shall also be accountable for the nearly two decades of neglect of its commitment to the 1994 Salamanca Statement to ensure access through a national sign language.

Existing policies of the DepEd and the judiciary relating to sign language and accessibility must still be fully implemented according to the principles and obligations of the UNCRPD.

Will the mandatory use of FSL be a barrier to unschooled deaf Filipinos?

No.  Because of its fully visual nature, FSL is the next most efficient and effective interface in communication even with a deaf person who has been isolated and is unable to use the typical sign communication of the community.  Artificial sign systems, which are sound- and alphabet-/spelling-based, shall be incomprehensible to such deaf persons.

(Dr. Liza Martinez is founder and director of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center, a member of the Philippine Coalition on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She has been actively involved in structural and sociolinguistics research on FSL for the past 22 years.)

 

This is a repost from National Council on Disability Affairs Website. Enjoy! 🙂

A local businessman-artist birthday gifted himself as a sudden inspiration, by inviting deaf teacher-artist and 2-time International Abilympics gold medallist Jose dela Cruz, to sketch friends and show his works in his party. As his wish, Jose’s genius easily got noticed, but in a big way, by one man in particular, This standout corporate young Good Samaritan (GM), from a super affluent family in the country, humbly told the interpreter after buying 2 paintings, “Please tell Lolo Jose not to forget me when he is already famous.”

Jose with Mr. Good Samaritan
Jose and Mr. Good Samaritan

His words so touched Jose and there was no stopping a mutual admiration society, sort of, between the two. Parting with his 2 most intricate and “cherished” works, Lolo Jose knew Mr. GM had the nose for masterpieces. Still reeling from the compliments, Jose was given yet another message. “Tell him I will hang his works next to my Juan Luna and other famed masterpieces, please.” This he did, when he invited Jose and the interpreter to his house weeks after.
The Interpreter, like Lolo Jose, was just as moved by the young man’s show of nobility and respect. Once more, there was proof, that disability is no barrier to excellence, and ingenuity.

Mr. GM was so moved by Lolo Jose and vows to help introduce his works to his friends.
Note: To keep Mr. GM’s identity, we are showing his blurred image beside Lolo Jose, until he decides it is time to come forward.