Let’s Talk About the Big ‘D’

Did you know that for the Deaf community, a capitalized letter makes all the difference?

The word “deaf”, with a small d, can refer to people who identify with hearing people (whether people who view their hearing loss in purely medical terms, or people who are beginning to lose their hearing).

On the other hand, “Deaf” with the big D refers to people who identify as culturally deaf and have a strong deaf identity. Oftentimes, these people are “woke” and proud to be deaf, partly because they went to schools for the deaf as kids.

In these Deaf schools, students learned, talked, and exchanged ideas not in English or Filipino, but in Filipino Sign Language! In short, this was the mother tongue for deaf learners. Unfortunately, very few Filipinos know how to use—or are even aware of—Filipino Sign Language (FSL), which greatly limits opportunities for the Deaf community.

Filipino Sign Language Bill

However, this is all about to change with the filing of the Filipino Sign Language Act (SB1455) by Senator Nancy Binay. Aside from recognizing FSL as the national sign language of the Philippines, the proposed law would significantly increase the Deaf community’s access to health, employment, justice, media, and culture and the arts.

The bill was filed thanks to the tireless efforts of the Philippine Federation of the Deaf and its 55 Deaf member organizations. For over two decades, these people’s organizations had campaigned for recognition of their community’s unique visual language. In fact, the House of Representatives passed their own version of the bill before the 2016 national election! The FSL Act has now been refiled by Representative Antonio Tinio of the ACT Teachers Partylist, a member of the progressive Makabayan bloc.

According to the Federation, though American Sign Language has been a significant influence on FSL (a throwback to our colonial roots), signing and sign language was used in the Philippines over 400 years ago. Imagine this—people were using sign language when they were building UST!

And all this time—from the 1590s to the present—the Deaf community has been at the margins. Nevertheless, they are hopeful that 2017 will finally be the year Filipinos recognize the beauty of their linguistic and cultural heritage, and stand with them to claim their human rights.

Let’s help campaign for the FSL Act! You can find the Philippine Federation of the Deaf on Facebook: PFDeaf. You can also write your Representative in Congress or favorite Senator to ask them to support this bill! What are you waiting for? Let’s support our Filipino Deaf community!

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