Sign language training could be mandatory for many South Africans, especially police and social workers, by next week

Business Insider SA
Sign language
Deaf students at the Khulani Special School learning sign language. (Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
  • The Pan South African Language Board has published a draft charter on South African Sign Language that will become final next week if nobody objects to it.
  • It creates obligations that will make sign language more commonly available in a range of situations, including anywhere front-line staff often deal with deaf people.
  • It also requires all television programmes to carry sign language interpretation.
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The South African government and other employers could by next week be obliged to provide at least some training in South African Sign Language to large swathe of staff – and some classes of employees could be required to spend more than a month in advanced-level sign language classes.

On Friday the Pan South African Language Board, a constitutional body with broad powers to monitor how the state treats different languages, gazetted a draft South African Sign Language Charter. The document, it says, "applies to all segments of the South African society" and "creates obligations" to protect the linguistic rights of the deaf community.

The document will become final if it receives no objections by Friday, 11 October, the Board said.

The charter requires anyone planning a meeting, conference, or similar event to consult deaf persons "well in advance" to make sure an interpreter of their choice is available.

It also stipulates that all televisions programmes must come with both close captions or subtitles and South African Sign Language interpretation.

Banks, hospitals, and public transport points will be required to make public announcements through either sign language or close captioning, and "front facing/and front-line employees at all entities" will have to receive ongoing training that includes sensitisation to the needs of deaf people.

Although it is not clear that the Board has such power, the document specifies a basic level of training for a wide range of people, including employees of private companies.

"[South African Sign Language] awareness and training should be mandatory to all staff members in the employ of government including municipalities, non-governmental organisations or in the private sector," one clause reads.

More advanced training in sign language will be required for staff "who provide essential and support services and deal more frequently with Deaf people, for example social workers, police officers".

The specified level of training requires students to be capable of holding a sustained, complex conversation in sign language. Courses to achieve such proficiency cost in the region of R6,000 per person and take around 240 hours to complete, or about a month and a half if evenly spread over workdays.

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