Joe Effiong, Uyo
Sometimes you go to church, court or any public occasion where formal speeches are made and you see someone using their hands to touch theirhead,nose, andotherpartsofthebodyor just make some signs in the air and you wonder what that means.
Well, don’t worry; those who understand are ‘listening’ and are making sense out of the seem- ing dramatic miming.
Grace Sampson, a 24-year-old student of special education, University of Uyo, is one of those who stand out to speak in signs in public places for those with hearing impairment.
At the just concluded 2-day partnership workshop/book presentation on Gender-Based Violence & Women with Disabilities, by Project Alert, Sampsonwasoneofthe“resourcespersons.” Not necessarily that she had a topic to present, but because she presented any discourse alongside the key resource persons.
When the Nigeria Delta Chronicle chatted her up, she said she acquired the skills of sign language from her elder sister who had hearing problems, even before she went on to study it.
“Already I had pre-knowledge of sign language before I came to do the course. I learned from my elder sister. She taught me. They don’t really teach me. The little I knew before is what I put together.”
She said the standard sign language used in Nigeria is the American Standard Version, which every sign language practitioner should understand to avoid incidence of misinterpretation, as such, each time she attends an event in which sign language is employed, she normally understands.
“However, Nigeria is trying to bring out their own version but it is not yet approved; so what every state in the country uses now is the American sign language. We also have local signs and international signs. In Nigeria, I think the local sign is for the laymen who have not been formally trained in sign language interpretation while the international signs are for those formally trained. We also have the mother tongue signs for those who speak in their houses to their hearing impaired relations not officially trained in sign language interpretation.”
Miss Sampson, however, painted a sad picture of the ill treatment sign language practitioners receive in Akwa Ibom State, saying they are being treated as disabled people.
“I was not even invited to this programme. I was aware only because I used to go the special school for the deaf and dumb to assist them if I don’t have classes. And I do that free of charge.
“And sometimes, when they invite us to state events like carol festival, the state government does every year, while the artists and others would be handsomely paid, they wouldn’t pay us. So, they are not trying for us the interpreters. That’s why some sign language interpreters don’t like going to such events.
“Sign interpretation is not easy. It is a very tedious job. You will stand all day irrespective of how many people are making presentations. You alone would be doing the interpretation and when you get home, you are fagged out. But at the end of the day, some will come and give you only N2,000 as if you are a beggar. So, we are try ing to register an association and regulate our activities. We have an association but the body is not very strong now.
“Like now, they can use you today; tomorrow they will not even call you. They’ll pick another person. There are so many interpreters here (in Akwa Ibom) but they are not employed; at least, we need to be employed in different areas so that we can assist people. That’s the challenge. Many of them are graduates but they cannot make use of their knowledge be- cause what they do here is only on contract.”
She said people equally mistake them to be deaf and dumb when they see them do the interpretation for hearing- impaired persons: “Even today the lady at the service point thought that I was deaf and dumb; and began to make signs to me when I queued for lunch. But I later made her understand that I cannot only hear but I can also speak. Many times when I go out with the hearing-impaired persons, others would think I also have hearing problems.”
She said even people who are not educated in the sign language could still be communicated with because there is the “pidgin version.”
“In some villages when I go to visit, I see some of them. We have international signs for mother and father but for them to understand we use breasts for mother and the bears as father; that is it.”
Despite the challenges, Sampson says she likes the job: “I have passion for the job and everything about me, I like doing the job in a higher place. I could do another job but for this one if I have access, I’ll really enjoy it.
“I started it in my church; I started with my sister, the last- born and the first son. They equally have hearing defects. “
She said she is the only person among her siblings who does not have hearing impairment even though she stressed that the problem is not hereditary in the family as none of her parent is deaf and dumb.
She appealed to schools to employ sign interpreters to aid students with hearing and speaking difficulties.
“In my department, we don’t have even one. I have to leave my class to be going out with one of them because if Idon’tgowiththem,theywillloseout. It’snotthattheyare paying me. I’m doing that just because I don’t want them to be frustrated because it can lead to their withdrawing from the studies.”