Integration of people with special needs into mainstream society invariably begins with them. But the tables were turned last weekend when around 100 residents of Dubai and the other emirates came forward to learn sign language. Their aim: a meaningful engagement with the audibly impaired should they cross paths with them.
As a group of four instructors took the residents through the basics of American Sign Language (ASL), the enthusiasm of the learners was unmistakable as they kept throwing up their hands with a twist in the air to gesture the "deaf applause".
Siddharth Kacher, a marketing executive who attended the workshop, said, "I wanted to learn sign language as a student, but couldn't take it up as a course in the US. Now that I got this opportunity, I didn't want to miss it."
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Organised by the NGO Volunteer in Dubai (VID) at the Arjaan BurJuman Rotana, the Summit of Silence workshop was free of charge and had people from different walks of life and nationalities coming together. They included students, housewives, businessmen and professionals.
"I just wanted to learn sign language although I do not know anyone who is audibly impaired," said Zulu, a 17-year-old Nigerian student studying at Gems World Academy.
I am an occupational therapist and I would like to learn sign language so I can communicate better with people who are hard of hearing," said Perse Iligaan from the Philippines.
The day-long workshop familiarised participants with signing of alphabets and other conversational skills. "An audibly impaired person has no one to talk to barring a few close relatives and friends. So the idea is to develop basic signing skills so that we give an audibly impaired person another friend to talk to," said Lola Lopez of VID.