September is Global Deaf Awareness Month, an initiative started by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) to commemorate their first world congress. In South Africa, it has been declared as National Deaf Awareness Month by both the Deaf Federation of South Africa and the South African National Deaf Association.
Deaf Awareness Month seeks to promote cognizance of the rights of deaf people in South Africa by educating the public about hearing loss, deafness, deaf culture and sign language. The aim is to make sure that hearing people understand deafness and the culture of the deaf community to endorse and uphold their rights.
South Africa has a well-established deaf community, with more than 4 million deaf or hard of hearing. The rights include equal employment opportunities, equal participation, bilingual education, sign language rights, the right to deaf culture, linguistic identity and accessibility.
Deaf culture is the heart of the deaf community worldwide; it comprises social beliefs, art, literacy, history, values and shared institutions of communities that are influenced by deafness and use sign languages as the main means of communication. These ideas and customs allow deaf people to live uniquely and help bring them together.
Deaf awareness week should draw us together in a renewed appreciation of our common heritage, common challenges and common aspirations. Deafness or hearing loss should not stop anyone from reaching their goals; it is up to the surrounding community to ensure that they are protected and treated equally.