Gaining respect and recognition for the Deaf in Papua New Guinea

Most Deaf children around the world are born to hearing parents who often do not learn any sign language. In Papua New Guinea that situation is no different. In an effort to assist hearing parents to communicate more effectively with their Deaf children, a series of workshops are being held to develop sign language books to aid with learning sign language. Callan Services, the organization which runs most of the Deaf schools in the country, with the support of SIL Global Sign Languages Team staff member, Nathalie Simonsson Juhonewe, has been working with a Deaf team from all parts of PNG to develop and record the national sign language.

Signs that are currently in use are evaluated by the team and new signs are developed for words or concepts for which there is not yet a sign. During a recent workshop over 200 new signs were selected by the team to be included in the new sign language books. The words and concepts were presented to the team using PNG Sign Language, often requiring long explanations since there were not yet signs to express them. Team members then checked the suggestions for signing each concept, and selected the best fit for the word or concept.

The workshop drew attention in both the national newspaper and television news. The difficult situation that the Deaf in PNG often face and the work to develop sign language books caught the interest of the media. Some articles have even told people to stop using "longlong", the common word for deaf  (which means "crazy, stupid, idiot") and to start using "iaupas", literally meaning "closed ears." It is a big encouragement to the Deaf and those working alongside them to have this support from the national media. This represents a big step towards a better understanding of and attitude toward the Deaf in Papua New Guinea.

Read more about sign languages.