Worldwide research shows that a hearing loss of more than 70% is a severe barrier to communication and education, meaning that deaf people are at an even greater disadvantage and miss out on a lot of life’s opportunities. What’s more, in the new digital world, many of those opportunities are online – and English is the main language used on the internet.
Now an innovative project is helping to open up the online world by developing an e-learning course that aims to enable an international audience of deaf sign language users to learn how to read and write in English.
Developing a prototype course
The Basic English for Deaf Sign Language Users project is being run by Walsall Deaf People’s Centre, an independent charity that provides professional and social services for profoundly deaf sign language users in the Black Country area of the West Midlands.
The charity initially partnered with two deaf organisations in Spain and Germany and worked with a deaf studies department at a British university to develop a prototype online course to teach deaf sign language users from different countries to read and write English – the world’s major language and the main language of the internet. By enhancing their communication skills, learners would be able to gain greater access to opportunities in today’s online world.
Adapting to an international audience
The prototype language course was tested by deaf people in all three countries with great success. As a result, and with support from Nominet Trust, the project is now being converted to provide a fully compliant and user-friendly e-learning platform that is accessible to all.
The ground-breaking initiative will soon offer a usable online and self-supporting e-learning course that is available in at least six sign language versions – French, American and Irish sign languages, which are the basis of many other local languages, have now also been added.
It differs from other language teaching programmes in that there is no reference to sound at all, and all support materials are available in sign language throughout the course. Online delivery is complicated by the fact that each country uses a different sign language, so all of the sign language clips within the learning materials have to be replaced for each country.