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April 21, 2005

Lawyers ask ministry to OK sign language

From: Asahi Shimbun, Japan - Apr 21, 2005

The Asahi Shimbun

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations is taking issue with the way children with severe hearing loss are being taught in schools.

It says they are being forced to practice spoken Japanese rather than using sign language-their preferred method of communication.

On April 13, the federation submitted a report to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology calling for it to legally recognize sign language, and thus approve it as a teaching tool.

In Japan, children with impaired hearing are generally educated without the benefit of instructors using sign language.

Students are urged to stretch their limited hearing, read lips, and are given voice training. Oral speech is the norm at schools for deaf students.

The ministry acknowledged the need for improvement but downplayed the concerns of sign-language advocates.

''Sign language is not necessarily banned at schools for the hearing impaired; yet, we don't think the current situation is what's best for the children, either,'' said a ministry official. ''We will study the report and endeavor to make the field of deaf education a specialized area.''

That's not good enough for Midori Okamoto, 47, head of the Japan Deaf Children and Parents Association.

''There are plenty of (deaf) schools out there that scold children if they dare move their hands,'' Okamoto said. ''The report reflects our petition in full. We hope it will be used to help reform education for deaf students in Japan.''

In 2003, the association appealed to the federation for help, saying students' right to ''to be educated in their mother tongue'' was being breached.

The result was the recent report. It charges that deaf schools ''prioritize speaking like a hearing person, and consider sign language as something that hinders students from acquiring (spoken) Japanese.''

The policy has caused much grief to children with hearing loss, as well as to their parents.

Lawyers cited Finland as a model country where the right of deaf people to use sign language is enshrined in the Constitution.

In reality, many faculty members at schools for deaf students in Japan do not know sign language. Teachers have expressed concern at not being able to communicate properly with their students through sign language.

The report suggests that the ministry of education consider hiring more instructors with severe hearing loss.

Touching on a ministry plan to unify schools for children with impaired vision or hearing and other disabilities, the report said: ''A strong community of sign users is essential for sign language to flourish.''

It recommends special consideration be given to schools for deaf students.(IHT/Asahi: April 21,2005)

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