Unisa personnel learn sign language

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Attendees at the workshop Photo: Unisa

The university is revising its language policy to develop marginalised languages.

Unisa staff attended a sign language workshop last month to overcome language barriers and promote social inclusion.

The two-day event on February 19-20 was hosted by the Unisa library and information service (LIS) at the Muckleneuk campus, in Pretoria CBD.

Sign language is the 12th official language of South Africa.

Unisa spokesperson Busisiwe Manala said the workshop was to enhance staff communication with students.

LIS director Dr Khomotso Marumo said the service decided to empower its staff by adding another language to their vocabulary, which will enable them to offer services to students of all ability.

Dr Napjadi Letsoalo of the  Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages of Human Sciences said the university revised its language policy and is working on developing other languages that were previously marginalised.

“In doing this, the university is also attempting to ensure that South African Sign Language (SASL) is developed since it was approved by the government in 2023 as the 12th official language,” he said.

Letsoalo said Unisa is moving one step closer to the deaf community by including LIS staff in the development of SASL.

LIS executive director Prof Mpho Ngoepe emphasised that the deaf community has been discriminated against for many years.

“LIS is of the view that it is best to start by capacitating staff members to serve the deaf community without experiencing any linguistic barrier, especially now that SASL has been made an official language. This is part of the transformation, and will be extended to other languages soon,” he said.

Sign language is based on five parameters, which are hand shape, palm orientation, movement, location, and facial expressions.

Ntombikayise Sukuza, Wits language school facilitator, emphasised that facial expression is important when using sign language because this language can be easily confused with location or kasi signs.

“Deaf culture often relies on sign language, facial expression and body language,” said Sukuza.

“As the lessons unfolded, LIS staff members demonstrated a strong commitment to inclusivity and diversity by communicating with the facilitator, language interpreters and each other.”

Pretoria Rekord/ Banele  Sithole