Filipino Sign Language Bill’s struggle for acceptance continues

Yesterday, I posted a Facebook status which says, “…. Filipino Sign Language struggle for acceptance continues… on November 27 at the House of Representatives…. ” This after the very heated argument which happened last November 19 during the Technical Working Group Sub-committee hearing on the discussion about the modification of the proposed Filipino Sign Language Bill. The “final” hearing will be held on the 27th.

Sub-committee Hearing

I was invited in the past two hearings representing our school, MCCID College. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. But it is imperative for me to participate on this one because I have already exhausted two excuses for not attending. 🙂

I won’t mention most of what transpired, especially the debates which took nearly four hours. Cong. Antonio Tinio, principal author of the bill was very cordial and accommodating with all sides.

I was the first one who made an introduction as one of the resource persons. But I remained silent all throughout the proceedings. I won’t post any prominent names here except for congressmen, in order to respect their personal preferences. These are what I observed:

  • I’m sure some participants already noticed this. Every time a resource person comes in, he/she knows where he/she would sit in preference of his/her stand on the bill. I being an FSL advocate sat on the right side of the conference room near the front since I’m one of the early birds. So do most of the pro-FSL supporters! The “anti” FSL people were all conspicuously seated on the left! Was there a seat plan made or are we just all natural born psychics? 🙂
  • A significant number of attendees, from the congressmen (paging, Cong. Rufus Rodriguez!) down to the deaf observers, still cannot distinguish the FILIPINO (language) from FILIPINO (group of people). Some of them are at a loss when they ignorantly pronounced that Filipino Sign Language means Tagalog language translated into sign language. One high-esteemed corporate head even mentioned about globalization. It is as if we dream of the Filipino Deaf becoming future Call Center Agents!
  • Two sign language interpreters were present. On the left, FSL interpreter while on the right, SEE with which some SEE advocates corrected the term as SIGNED ENGLISH Interpreters. But after careful observation, there were many instances when both of them were nearly signing identically! Is the SEE interpreter slowly switching to a much comfortable FSL or is the FSL interpreter making things easier by following English sentences in exact order? hmmm…
  • Some perceived that FSL is an anti-English language. That’s way too unfounded. All, and I mean ALL, Special Education Centers in the Philippines use English as a medium of instruction especially in the written form. Tagalog or Filipino language is taught sparsely. Some, including oral schools, scrapped Filipino subject altogether.
  • Quite a number of participants brag about their so and so decades of teaching the deaf or being deeply involved with the deaf community. Well, I guess the number of years of service won’t always make you a better servant.
  • When the voice interpreter code switched from English to Tagalog, some used that as a proof that FSL is indeed based on Tagalog. What a shameless exposure of ignorance!
  • Some “anti” FSL washed their hands into saying that they’re not really against FSL. They just don’t want it to be used as a medium of instruction in schools. But the proposed bill is not only confined in classrooms. It must be used in all media and services including courts, hospitals, government offices and TV news interpreting.
  • Majority of the attendees were from the academe. So the “fear” of FSL being used as the “sole” language in classrooms was loudly expressed.
  • The Filipino Deaf Community was raised up. Who can be identified as part of the community and who are those who are not? Who belongs to the big “D” and those in the small “d”? This “branding” of people is a tough nut to crack.

Now, what really excited me was that the heated discussions among hearing participants (including some deaf protagonists of course) spilled over to the deaf audience. I heard that during the first committee hearing, there was only one participant from the FSL group. As expected, he was succumbed by those who were not in agreement with FSL. And so he rallied the cause and the historic Deaf March for FSL bill transpired in the morning before the second committee hearing. FSL made a strong showing in round two.

But during this third hearing, the “SEE” group brought with them a group of their deaf supporters. So the so-called, pro-FSL and anti-FSL among the Filipino Deaf community “surfaced”. The real excitement happened when they gathered outside the conference hall after the session. It was there when they made exchanges of perspective about the cause. I cannot help but stayed on to see what their real sentiments were. When Cong. Tinio joined the discussion among the deaf groups, I volunteered to voice for him. Here is what I gathered:

  • The “SEE” deaf group were not TOTALLY AGAINST FSL. Some of them even signed in FSL. But what they don’t want is for FSL to be mandated in all schools. They only want FSL to be taught as one of the subjects and SEE to be maintained as the main medium of instruction. They simply don’t want FSL to be strictly imposed on them.
  • The “FSL” deaf group lightly argued that the law must be implemented and that FSL must be recognized in ALL schools.
  • Some asked if FSL will be implemented in all schools, will oral schools be included? How could that be? What about those who are late-deafened? Will there be exclusions on the bill? If that’s the case, then the essence of the bill, which is FSL for all will not be met.

In the end, the deaf community agreed to have further talks about the issues raised. What’s important is that they don’t close their doors into making their points heard. As for me, I still believe that FSL be recognized as a native language of the Filipino Deaf and must be taught during their formative years. But the Filipino Deaf must be given a choice. It is their right.

On to round four….. 🙂

K-12 to use sign language as mother tongue for deaf

This is a repost from Yahoo news.

By Mikhail Franz E. Flores, VERA Files
Now that the K to 12 system of education is being enforced in the country and native languages have begun to be used as medium of instruction from kindergarten to Grade 3, deaf children will also get the chance to use their mother tongue: sign language.

The Deaf Education Council (DEC) began consultation with deaf educators in developing a sign language curriculum for non-hearing pupils at a forum at the University of the Philippines College of Education Auditorium last month.

The DEC and the deaf community will decide what sign language public schools will use in the mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) for the deaf.

The MTB-MLE is an integral part of the DepEd’s K to 12 educational reform program which added two years to the erstwhile 10-year basic education cycle. The mother tongue will be the medium of instruction from kindergarten to Grade 3. The languages include Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Ilocano, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao and Chavacano.
If adopted by DepEd, Filipino Sign Language (FSL) would be the “13th mother tongue language.”
DEC was formed on the recommendation of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, who met with members of the deaf community last September. The council is mandated to provide direction and facilitate efforts to improve deaf education in the country.

The group is composed of four non-hearing and three hearing members. The non-hearing members are Rey Lee, president of the Philippine Federation of the Deaf (PFD) as the council chair; PFD secretary George Lintag; Raphael Domingo, coordinator of Education Access for the Deaf at the Center for Education Access and Development (CEAD); and Yvette Apurado Bernardo, an executive board of the Phil-Sports Federation of the Deaf.

The hearing members are Therese Bustos a deaf education specialist from UP; Liza Martinez; director of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center and Theresa Christine dela Torre, CEAD director.
Bustos said the project is gathering volunteers to develop the curriculum. Four working committees are set to be formed to develop a curriculum for each grade level, she said.

As a language of its own, sign language must be institutionalized in schools to help non-hearing children learn in their own mother language, said Dina Ocampo, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Education.

“If we are able to mainstream signs in the Department of Educationprogramming, then we will reach more and more deaf children,” she said.

Ocampo added that deaf education is more of a language matter rather than the content of the curriculum or materials.

“The main core issue, I think, is language,” she said.

Bustos clarified that sign language is separate from spoken languages. Thus, FSL, the language used by more than half of Filipinos with hearing disability, is different from Filipino.

“Ang may koneksiyon lang sa wikang senyas na nakakonekta sa wikang sinasalita ay ang finger spelling. Lahat ng senyas ay walang kinalaman sa wikang sinasalita (Only finger spelling is related to the spoken language. All other signs have no relation with the spoken language),” Bustos said.

Bustos said that around 54 percent of Filipinos with hearing disability use FSL, which is the preferred sign language to be used as medium of instruction. However, the deaf community will still have the final say on what sign language to use for their own MTB-MLE program.

At present, the Signed Exact English (SEE), a manually encoded adaptation of spoken English, is being used as the official language for deaf students, said DepEd Undersecretary Yolanda Quijano.
The deaf community, however, prefers the FSL over the SEE since Filipinos have their own culture and identity and the FSL better reflects these.

Bustos also said the exact number of deaf schools is difficult to determine since most of them are dependent on the availability of teachers.

“Once a teacher resigns, the program is also removed,” Bustos said. The country, though, has one residential school for the deaf, the Philippine School for the Deaf.

The 2000 Census shows that around 120,000 of the total PWD population are deaf. The census puts the total number of PWDs at 942,098 or 1.23 percent of the total population of the country.The 2010 census has not been released.

A 2011 World Health Organization study said PWDs make up about 15 percent of a country’s population, especially in developing countries. This would then mean more than 13 million Filipino are PWDs.
One in two Filipinos with hearing and speech impairment has had some elementary education, 28 percent some high school, 20 percent some college and two percent up to postgraduate, according to a Social Weather Stations survey.

(VERA Files is a partner of the “Fully Abled Nation” campaign that seeks to increase participation of PWDs in the 2013 elections and other democratic process. Fully Abled Nation is supported by The Asia Foundation and the Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for “true.”)

Sign Language in Europe Under Threat?

pictures of 2 sign language interpreters worki...
Image via Wikipedia

In my country, we are still patiently lobbying, protesting and persuading people both in the government and private sector to recognize that there exists such a language as Filipino Sign Language for the past two decades. Now here comes a distressing news that Europe is threatening the very existence of sign language? This is discouraging, very discouraging indeed.

We have always looked up to Europe and USA as a good role models when it comes to protecting the rights of deaf people and their strong advocacy in the use of sign language as their mode of communication especially in schools for the deaf. But now, we are doubtful as to the future of this very special language. I just hope they would find a win-win solution on this.

I reposted the news article here taken from the World Federation of the Deaf official website as reference:

WFD – EUD conference attendees noted with alarm that the status of sign languages is under threat in Denmark and the Netherlands. Recent developments in Denmark have led to the adoption of an educational philosophy which denies deaf and hard of hearing children any visually accessible communication, including the right to education in sign language. At the same time the Netherlands is undergoing debates over sign language’s place in the education of deaf children.

World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and European Union of the Deaf (EUD) together with the Ål Experiential College and Conference Center for Deaf People and with financial support from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry are organizing a conference from 6th to 9th November in Ål, Norway. The conference titled Sign Languages as Endangered Languages brings together deaf community leaders, academics and educators to debate the status of sign languages and emerging trends in sign language education.

Monday’s keynote presenter, professor emeritus Stuart Blume, from University of Amsterdam discussed the globalisation of technology and the start and spread of cochlear implantation programmes. According to Blume, deaf community leaders do not seem to have the same networks and access to politicians and media as the advocates of the cochlear implants. He also introduced idea of learning from the indigenous peoples’ experience in promoting their rights and suggested deaf communities to build coalitions and look for allies in anthropologists, sociologists and researchers on a national level.

President of the Danish Deaf Association (DDL) Ms. Janne Boye Niemelä presented the alarming situation in Denmark where 99% of all newly born children are offered cochlear implants; yet at the same time the provided support services do not include sign language but instead concentrate on auditory verbal therapy. With the number of deaf schools decreasing the recent developments in the Danish society would seem to aim at promoting speech to the detriment of Danish sign language. Furthermore, according to Ms. Corrie Tijsseling the deaf community in the Netherlands is currently dealing with a similar debate on sign language’s place in deaf children’s education.

The president of the Swedish Association of the Hard of Hearing (HRF) and the former president of International Federation of Hard of Hearing (IFHOH) Mr. Jan-Peter Strömgren highlighted that both hard of hearing and deaf children should have the right to bilingualism and give them the opportunity to choose later their linguistic identity. He also recommended good cooperation between associations of hard of hearing and deaf people pointing out that also many hard of hearing people use sign language.
The conference will continue on Tuesday concentrating on laws and best practices in promoting and protecting sign languages.

Going the Deaf way or stick with the hearing world?

I recently came across a blog post enumerating the Pros and Cons of Being Hard of Hearing. It was an interesting read so I posted it in my Facebook wall. A late deafened FB friend and a professional photojournalist Raphael Torralba took notice of that link and re-posted it in a prominent Yahoo group for Persons With Disabilities in the Philippines. As far as I can remember, he is still struggling with his signing skills.
A few comments and sentiments were given in response to his post. Some even connected this with difficulty in employment among deaf people, heavily dependent on sign language interpreters, a great scarcity of competent interpreters and the need for the deaf to develop lipreading skills in order to “cope up” with the hearing world. One commenter even challenged the Filipino Deaf community to “speak up” and “think of innovative ways to cope up with their disability”.
They are all true. That’s the reality. But then again, a more underlying question must be asked. If a person became deaf at a later age, should he stick with the hearing world, or go the Deaf way? 
At MCCID, we have a new student who is a late deafened. She was already in her third year college when her hearing suddenly deteriorated which according to her mom, has no idea how it came about. Since she is new to signing, she can only talk. So it’s hard to communicate with her even with her family. She can’t sign but she can’t hear my voice either. She can talk but she can’t lipread very well. So she is neither here nor there.
She became deaf only about a couple of years ago. But she has a very strong will and determination to succeed. Her favorite book is the “Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. She has been with the deaf world only since June and she is adjusting slowly. Everybody surrounding her (her deaf classmates) are doing their best to communicate with her. It is I who is having tremendous effort to go through with her. I am always at quandary whether to sign or to talk. I am used to signing with my mouth closed in order to focus more on the essence of my thoughts. But since she is still grasping for signs, I have to mouth every words. Shouting is of no use since she’s totally deaf. This is very frustrating both for me and her.
So I encouraged her to improve her signing skills and at the same time rely on gestures or manual movement in order for her to understand the instructions (which is actually the purpose of sign language). Every time she wants to say something to me, she talks. But I refrained her from doing that. Instead, I encouraged her to practice her signing so that she can easily understand us. I believe that she must embrace who she is now. She is a deaf person. She must live with this predicament and find a way to survive with it.
I did not ask her to completely forget about speaking. MCCID hired her to do part time office work. Since our School Registrar and President only knows a few signs and relies heavily on speech, then she must talk to them. This proves to be a win-win situation for her.
Am I doing the right thing? That I can’t answer right now. She is still a work in progress. But only time will tell. 🙂

The unspoken language

This is a repost from the article written by Sam L. Marcelo of Business World Online. Here is the original link.

EAVESDROPPING is despicable but I do it all the time. When I see deaf people “talking” on the train, I can’t help myself. I’m riveted by their conversation and my eyes follow their hands as they dance in space. Fingers animated by meaning slice, flick, and stab the air. Noses scrunch, eyebrows rise and fall, cheeks puff out, lips purse and wiggle about. Not a word is spoken but a lot is said.
Chances are, they’re communicating in Filipino Sign Language (FSL), a “unique visual language” that has its own grammar and syntax. FSL is not gesture or pantomime. FSL is not American Sign Language (ASL), although it cannot deny that it was influenced by ASL; neither is FSL the sign equivalent of spoken Tagalog or Filipino.

FSL is FSL and it is a defining part of the Filipino Deaf — big “D,” not small “d” — identity, which is why members were shocked when Department of Education (DepEd) undersecretary Yolanda Quijano endorsed Signed Exact English (SEE), a manually coded version of spoken English, for classroom use during a forum attended by public and private school teachers, and NGOs.

“It was like a bomb,” said George Lintag, secretary of the Philippine Federation of the Deaf, Inc. (PFD), who was present when Ms. Quijano made her controversial statement.

Mr. Lintag is a post-lingual Deaf person, which means he lost his hearing after he learned to speak. At the age of nine, his hearing gradually started to weaken and by the time he turned 15, his world was silent. The interview was conducted without the aid of an interpreter. BusinessWorld wrote its questions and comments down; he answered in a quiet voice. In answer to an observation that he spoke well, he shrugged and smiled. “I don’t know. I can’t hear myself.”

There are several degrees of hearing loss. For quick reference, a mildly deaf person cannot hear whispered conversations and has a hearing threshold of 20-40 decibels (dB); a moderately deaf person has difficulty following close-range conversations and has a hearing threshold of 40-60 dB; a person with severe hearing loss can only hear loud noises such as the racket made by a vacuum cleaner or lawn mower at close range, representing a hearing threshold of 60-90 dB; finally, a severely deaf person can hear only extremely loud noises — a chainsaw, for example — and feel the vibrations made by loud sounds.

The people in the final group have a hearing threshold of greater than 90 dB, a level that’s around 10 to 40 decibels lower than a live rock concert (it depends on which band is playing). Normal conversation is 60-70 dB; Col Hatchman of Dirty Skanks holds the Guinness Book of World Records record for “loudest drummer” when he hit a peak reading of 137.2 dB at a 2006 gig.

Filipinos with hearing loss account for 2% of the population, a conservative estimate. However, not all deaf Filipinos are members of the Filipino Deaf community, which defines itself as a cultural and linguistic minority fighting for the right to use FSL, the native sign language that it knows, understands, and identifies with the most.

In response to Ms. Quijano’s endorsement of SEE, PFD, a member of the World Federation of the Deaf and the national Deaf advocacy organization composed of 18 member Deaf organizations in 14 regions, drafted a resolution this August claiming “the fundamental human rights to language, culture, participation and self-determination for all Deaf Filipinos, in accordance with the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability, the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (1994), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

The PFD called on the DepEd to “halt the violation of the rights to language, culture, participation and self-determination of Deaf Filipinos; and institute, facilitate and promote all appropriate measures to guarantee the full enjoyment of these rights.”

“We are proud of our culture. We want to preserve our culture. And the most important part of our culture is our language, which is FSL,” said Mr. Lintag.

FSL is a true language

According to Dr. Liza B. Martinez, a hearing sign language linguist who is founder and director of Philippine Deaf Resource Center (PDRC), FSL is one of about a hundred natural sign languages recognized to be linguistically distinct from each other at all levels of linguistic structure (phonology, morphology, syntax and discourse).

FSL is not simply a dialect of American Sign Language (ASL), though it does borrow heavily from it. Ms. Martinez cites archival documents dating back to the 16th-17th century as critical evidence that sign language existed in the Philippines before American colonization.

Separate accounts written by Jesuit priests Gregorio Lopez and Pedro Chirino describe mutes who used signs to communicate.

An Introduction to Filipino Sign Language, a multivolume series published in 2004 by PDRC and PFD, answers many of the questions a hearing person might have about a visual language.

Sign languages are as different from each other as spoken ones; and only those who know sign languages from the same branch or family will be able to understand each other right off the bat. It’s easy to “get” FSL if you know ASL, for example, because they’re related though history and development. Taiwanese Sign Language, meanwhile, uses handshapes that are alien to FSL: the raised middle finger in the sign for “brother” and the folded pinky in the sign for “airplane,” among others.

As in ASL, each sign in FSL has five components. Handshape, which was already mentioned, is one of them. The other four are palm orientation, location, movement, and nonmanual signals. Change any one of these five components and the meaning of the sign changes as well.

Nuances such as tone, sarcasm, or irony are conveyed through nonmanual signals such as facial expressions and body movements.

“Shouting” entails taking up a larger area of signing space, an imaginary three-dimensional region in front of the user; whispering, a smaller area. (If the need for privacy is great, you can always sign underneath your shirt so that your conversation is hidden from prying eyes.) Eloquence, just the same as any language, is demonstrated by the wide use of vocabulary and complex sentence structure.

Hands can move rapidly or slowly, gracefully or abruptly. How you sign tells a lot about who you are: your age, educational attainment, even your gender. Just as there is “swardspeak” in spoken language, there is also gay FSL (you’ll know it when you see it; gay signs have more…. pizzazz.)

“As in any language, there is the whole range of human diversity in terms of signing styles. Each individual has his or her own ‘dialect,’” said Ms. Martinez. “Particular vocabularies are distinct for certain age groups and social classes. Like other living languages, new vocabularies emerge, change, and disappear.”

Members of the Filipino Deaf community have repeatedly said that they would rather be taught in FSL. The PFD’s resolution is only the latest and, as mentioned, their request is backed by several local and international declarations. The DepEd, in the 1980s, prescribed that local sign language — “Pilipino Sign Language” — be used as the language of instruction for the hearing impaired.

The Formal Resolution adopted by the World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf in Helsinki, Finland in 1987 said that “the distinct national sign languages of indigenous deaf populations should officially be recognized as their natural language of right for direct communication” and that “teachers of the deaf learn and use the accepted indigenous sign language as the primary language of instruction.”

The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, adopted by 92 governments (the Philippines included) and 25 international organizations in 1994 read, in part: “Educational policies should take full account of individual differences and situations.

The importance of sign language as the medium of communication among the deaf, for example, should be recognized and provision to ensure that all deaf persons have access to education in their national sign language.”

In 2007, the Philippines became one 82 signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 24 of the Convention states that signatories shall facilitate “the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community.”

Why then, Ms. Quijano’s endorsement of Signed Exact English? Why then, the use of SEE in the Miriam College — Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf (MC-SAID)? Why then, the use of Signed English (a system that is simpler than SEE) in the Philippine School for the Deaf (PSD)?

Visual codes, reading, and writing

“We are not here to teach signs. We are here to teach concepts,” said Yolanda Capulong, principal of PSD, which offers three levels of schooling (pre-elementary, elementary, and secondary). “Our students are here to learn the parts of the body and the parts of the plant. They are here to learn to read and write.”

The language of instruction in PSD is English, complemented by Signed English, a “system of manual communication” that “translates” spoken English into signs. Signed English is one of several “visual codes” for representing spoken English.

The history of PSD goes back more than a hundred years. It was established in 1907 as the School for the Deaf and the Blind by Delia Delight Rice of Columbus, Ohio. In 1963, the School split into two entities: PSD and the Philippine School for the Blind. Today, it has 603 students, ranging from the mildly deaf to the severely deaf. PSD also accepts children with other disabilities and special needs, such as autism and cerebral palsy.

Since PSD is a national school, the medium of instruction has always been a concern. “We’re trying to serve a very diverse population with different needs,” said Ms. Capulong. “There are three big issues in the education of the deaf: where shall we teach deaf children, how shall we teach deaf children, and what shall we teach deaf children?” FSL relates to the second issue.

PSD’s goal is to “mainstream” its deaf students. In the education setting, this means helping them join regular classes based on their skills and intellectual abilities. In another sense, “mainstreaming” refers to becoming part of the larger, hearing society. To this end, PSD adheres to the Total Communication Philosophy, which means that it uses a combination of communication modes in its classes.

Where other schools are either purely oral (meaning students must lip read and undergo auditory training so that they can speak) or purely manual, PSD believes in Simultaneous Communication — signing and speaking at the same time.

“Concepts cannot be taught without a common language,” said Ms. Capulong. “FSL is gestural like any sign language. How can you convert a gestural language into a written language?,” she asked.

The PSD principal made it clear that she has no problem with FSL. “It’s okay; it’s fine,” she said. “However, inside a classroom, you have to use a system. You have to standardize things, including the manifestation of a language.” Using Signed English, she continued, will help students grasp the syntax of English, which, in turn, will help them read and write.

Sign what you say

Parents who were not satisfied with the education offered at PSD established the Miriam College – Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf (MC-SAID), which teaches pre-school to secondary levels, in 1974. It was a forerunner in adopting the Total Communication Philosophy. But unlike PSD, MC-SAID used and still uses Signed Exact English, an even more precise visual code for spoken English than Signed English.

Every morpheme in spoken English has an equivalent sign in SEE: verbs must be conjugated, meaning there are appropriate gestures that tell you whether a verb is in the progressive form (“-ing”) or the past tense (“-ed”); articles and prepositions are not skipped, neither are affixes. Basically, everything that is said is exactly signed (hence the name).

“The advantages of SEE are many. I’ve seen how the use of this sign system has helped our graduates,” said Carol Ui, MC-SAID principal.

“An educator’s concern is literacy and I believe that this is what SEE can give to our deaf students.” She continued that the use of SEE does not exclude FSL. “They can both be functional and useful for any deaf child.”

For Ms. Ui, MC-SAID’s graduates are the best arguments for using SEE. There’s Jemima Ming Go, who graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines, Diliman, College of Fine Arts last year. As a matter of fact, many Deaf leaders now advocating for the use of FSL were products of SEE.

“I think that one of the reasons they can engage intellectually in these conversations and discussions about FSL and SEE is that they have command over both languages [FSL and SEE],” said Ms. Ui. “That they favor FSL over SEE is not really an issue with me. It makes me proud as a teacher to see them engaged. Not any deaf person can do [what they’re doing].”

The MC-SAID principal continued that seeing how well the system has worked for them just bolsters the case for SEE. “When we’re talking about classroom situation, I really believe that we should use SEE,” she said, adding that literacy is reading and writing, and, therefore, knowing the rules of English (which is the closest the world has to a lingua franca). “But again, that doesn’t mean that FSL cannot be used in other contexts.”

A learner-centered environment

Raphael “Raphy” Domingo is a Deaf leader who works as coordinator of Education Access for the Deaf at the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB)-Center for Education Access and Development (CEAD). He was president of the PFD from 1999-2003 and a major contributor to An Introduction to Filipino Sign Language. Mr. Domingo, who lost his hearing pre-lingually, is bilingual, being fluent in FSL and English. DLS-CSB uses FSL in its School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS), which has a Multimedia Arts track and a Business Entrepreneurship track. There are more Deaf teachers in the school than hearing teachers.

“FSL is our language,” Mr. Domingo said through an interpreter. “It is the natural language of the Filipino Deaf community. The deaf, in general, use their eyes to understand the world.”

(Later on in the interview, Mr. Domingo requested that BusinessWorld use “Mr. Domingo said” in this article instead of “Mr. Domingo said through an interpreter.” “This is my voice, these are my thoughts and not the interpreter’s,” he said, adding that the phrase “through an interpreter” could be used once as a compromise.)

To illustrate how FSL is different from SEE, he used the question “What is your name?” as an example. SEE entails signing each word — “what,” “is,” “your,” and “name” — plus the question mark at the end of the interrogative sentence. In FSL, the sign for “name” and a puzzled facial expression suffices.

Mr. Domingo stressed that it’s not a shortcut but a visual concept.

“Before learning English, Tagalog, or whatever spoken language, the Deaf should first learn their own language, which is FSL,” he said. “The problem is that teachers keep using ‘hearing’ methods to teach us.

They bombard the Deaf with so many written words and we just copy, copy, copy without understanding anything. Communication is one way and there’s no feedback. It has to be more visual.”

Theresa Christine “Techie” Benitez-dela Torre, director of CEAD and dean of SDEAS from 2002-2009, said that DLS-CSB uses FSL because it is “learner-centered.”

“You have to see it from the view of the students. You have to understand it from a sociocultural perspective,” she said. “Deaf people cannot hear, yes, but that does not define their personhood. Their identity is not their hearing ability. They have their own unique experiences.”

Imagine a deaf infant born in a hearing world. “From day one, this baby is isolated and cut off. There is a barrier — a barrier that is not necessarily a product of his deafness but a product of his hearing environment, which has always addressed only the needs of hearing people,” said Ms. Benitez-dela Torre. “If we understand the context of the deaf, then we can adjust the environment so that they can access the same things hearing people have access to.”

One way of “adjusting the environment” is using FSL, a visual and kinesthetic language that is the natural language of the Deaf.

“Oral-based languages are learned in an auditory manner. Hearing and post-lingual deaf people already have the foundations they need in their brain to understand the rules,” said the CEAD director. “The same is not true for the pre-lingual deaf.”

It is better for a deaf child to learn FSL, she continued, and use it as a bridge to a second, oral-based language such as English. “It should not be the other way around,” Ms. Benitez-dela Torre said. “It’s difficult when you force an oral-based reality on those who are deaf. All we want is for them to have choices and the power to make them.