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  • Challenges and Resolutions for the Deaf Education Sector in South Africa
  • Bruno Peter Nkosi Druchen (bio)

The Deaf community in South Africa is represented on a national level by the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA). Formerly known as the South African National Council for the Deaf, DeafSA was founded in 1929 and in 1995 was transformed into a democratic organization. Its new name, the Deaf Federation of South Africa, signaled that it had changed from an organization for the Deaf to one of the Deaf. The change in the organization’s constitution and attitude also meant that decisions about the services and affairs of Deaf people were no longer made by hearing people on behalf of Deaf people, but by Deaf people themselves. At present, 80% of the membership of the National Executive Committee of DeafSA is Deaf.

Through the years, Deaf people have had to face numerous challenges. In the past, they had little access to education and almost no opportunity for gainful employment. Although things have improved over time, Deaf people still face challenges. In this article, I discuss challenges past and present and look at how the Deaf community has made strides to overcome them.

  • • Like the Deaf people in South Africa who use it, South African Sign Language (SASL) has had to fight for survival.

  • • SASL has been viewed as less than the spoken languages used in South Africa. Many hearing people have dedicated themselves to changing the Deaf and their language.

  • • For years, Deaf people had to endure being viewed as incomplete because of their absence of hearing.

  • • Some religious groups wanted to save Deaf people, while other groups wanted to teach them, because of a lack of speech.

  • • The South African Department of Education is labeling Deaf people in South Africa by introducing new terminology that defines Deaf people and deafness with phrases such as “auditory impairment” and “Deaf and dumb.” This is being done without consulting the Deaf community.

  • • The Department of Education consults with educators of the Deaf—a positive development.

  • • Many teachers are not fluent in SASL and do not understand the needs of Deaf learners.

  • • DeafSA has fought for equal opportunities in education and employment and for cultural recognition.

Background on Deaf Education in South Africa and the Current Situation

DeafSA has, for its part, played a fully consultative role in the conception, inception, and implementation of inclusive education in South Africa as well as policies and regulations pertaining to schools for the Deaf. The publication A History of Progress and Struggle covers a period of 14 years, detailing DeafSA’s ongoing attempts to positively influence and support the inclusion implementation plans for learners who are Deaf.

From A History of Progress and Struggle it should become clear that, on the issue of inclusive education, the need to support SASL through recognition, development, training, and other means cannot be ignored. SASL is not a language that can be relegated to special schools only; it is a language that must be used as a method toward including Deaf children in inclusive schools. Some positive achievements have been made:

  • • The South African Schools Act recognizes [South African] Sign Language as an official language [End Page 496] for the purposes of learning at a public school (The South African Schools Act: Norms and Standards of Language-in-Education Policy, 1996).

  • • The Integrated National Disability Strategy (Office of the President, 1997) acknowledges the need to “promote and protect equal education opportunities for children with communication disabilities and to protect their language medium” (p. 68).

  • • In 2003, a SASL unit was established within the Pan South African Language Board.

  • • In May 2005, the unit standards for SASL were included in the National Qualifications Framework.

  • Education White Paper 6 (Department of Education, 2001) clearly spells out that in order to achieve equal education for all, barriers to the education of learners should be removed and that specific needs of learners must be addressed within an inclusive education system. Furthermore, it also spells out that the Ministry of Education should consult with organizations for people with disabilities.

In spite of DeafSA’s ongoing commitment to educating, supporting, and enriching the Department of Education on issues pertaining...


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pp. 496-498
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