The current COVID-19 crisis has made it a real challenge for everyone to know how others are feeling, because our faces are mostly covered by masks. Masks make it difficult to understand what people are saying, even for people with no hearing impairment. For people with a hearing impairment, who often rely on decoding facial expressions and are often skilled at lip reading, interacting with people wearing masks makes understanding how people feel and what they say even more challenging. So, in celebration of the International Day of People with Disabilities the Australian Government through the BEQUAL program launched an initiative to help people of all abilities to communicate as we do our best to connect with each other while wearing masks – a fun lesson in basic Lao Sign Language!
Sign language is a way of communicating used by people who cannot hear well. Sign language implies using mainly hand gestures and movements, and also body language and facial expressions, instead of spoken words.
To commemorate the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd, the Australian funded BEQUAL program organized an online fun session to discover how to communicate and express ourselves using Lao Sign Language. Indeed, when we can’t see each other’s well-being behind the face masks, let’s learn how to check on each other with Sign language. “Are you Ok? Do you need help?”.
Ajan Sophaphone Heuanglith was the teacher of that interactive session. Aj Sophaphone is quite famous these days as the woman who provides Sign language translation for the daily live-streamed COVID-19 updates from the Center for Communication on Education and Health. But even before becoming the interpreter of the Task Force announcements, she had been collaborating with the Ministry of Education and Sports. Following a training organized in January 2021 by the Australian Embassy with support from BEQUAL, the Information and Media Center and E-learning teams from MoES decided to include Sign language dubbing to all the teacher training videos and documentaries produced with the BEQUAL program. The objective was to ensure that people with hearing impairment could have access to these important educational materials.
On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let’s continue to advocate for more inclusion!