Maltese sign language will be officially recognised through a new law that will open the door to more inclusion and help address the interpreter shortage.

Deaf people in Malta have long been calling for the recognition of Maltese sign language. The first step towards this was made last Wednesday when the Maltese Sign Language Recognition Bill was presented in Parliament for debate.

Chris Ripard, the father of 23-year-old Emma, who was born profoundly deaf, welcomed the move.

His daughter was mainstreamed but only started developing her potential when assisted by a sign language interpreter employed by the Deaf Association, he said, adding she now graduated with diplomas in sports and fitness.

However, he added, the association could no longer afford to pay for the interpreters.

“Recognition of Maltese sign language is fine but it will not have any real benefit unless an adequate infrastructure is there to support it. This must include an official body to oversee the development of Maltese sign language and the engagement of interpreters,” he said.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Disability and the Elderly, Justyne Caruana, agreed.

It will not have any real benefit unless an adequate infrastructure is there to support it

In fact, she said, the Bill proposed the setting up of a council that had several responsibilities, including promoting the use of Maltese sign language and attracting more people to learn it and to become interpreters.

Dr Caruana said the government was also working on an EU-funded project that would train civil servants in sign language. Her parliamentary secretariat had recently employed two interpreters. In May 2011, the Deaf Association organised a silent protest outside the Italian Embassy, in Floriana, in solidarity with their Italian colleagues whose government was refusing to grant official recognition to sign language.

They used the opportunity to call on the Maltese government to recognise sign language too, adding that there were 400 deaf people on the island but only about 100 of them used sign language. The association has been calling for the screening of babies for hearing impairments before they leave hospital.

Health Commissioner Charles Messina recommended last month that all newborn children should be screened to detect hearing problems at an early stage.

He also proposed that hearing-impaired students should ideally be grouped in one dedicated school to avoid having teachers and interpreters travelling to and fro.

In an investigation on the problems faced by people with hearing problems, he noted that 68 per cent of deaf children did not proceed to post-secondary education.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us