Colleges need to hear out the deaf

By: Lakshmi Kothaneth

MUSCAT: There are no deaf students enrolled at Sultan Qaboos University and it might be the same case with most higher education institutions in Oman. There is just one college in Oman enrolling deaf students. The two day Symposium on Higher Education and Disabilities — Challenges and Opportunities looked at the national, regional and international experience in enhancing the opportunities for the physically challenged students.

“Actually we are looking for equal opportunities for students with disabilities and the aim of this symposium is to spread the awareness amongst the decision makers, academicians, faculty and students. We should treat all students equally. Regarding enrolment to the University we wish the students with disabilities had the same opportunities as the rest of the students. It is the same situation when it comes to students selecting majors and colleges,” says Widad al Hashmi, a lecturer in English language at Sultan Qaboos University, who also works with the Learning Center that organised the symposium.

While successful campaigns have brought about changes for students in wheelchair with accessibility to buildings and class rooms and for students with visual impediment brought about with the advancement of technology, deaf students have been sidelined because the only successful mode of communication has been the use of sign language.

The Wafa Association helps in the assistance of deaf children along with others with disabilities. There is one school for deaf students and that is Al Amal School for the deaf. The Omani Association for the Deaf began in 2013 and it has more than 700 members. Some of the members are employed in government services and others in the private sector but they have not been able to secure high level jobs because of lack of qualification and training, pointed out Said bin Mohammed al Badai, member of Oman Association for the Deaf and the President of Sign Language Interpreters in Oman. “I think we must have more than 15,000 deaf individuals in Oman. There is one school and now one college in Oman to take in students who are deaf,” said Al Badai.

Aisha al Shammas, a government employee from United Arab Emirates, on her own initiative learnt the sign language and today she is an interpreter for individuals with hearing impediment. “Sign language is widely spread although many people do not know that sign language is connected to countries. American language is widely used these days in the world just as in the case of English language being spoken widely in the world,” said Al Shammas.

In the case of Aisha, she first learnt sign language from her husband and studied the sign language in the United States of America to communicate with her husband, but soon realised there was a much needed service to bridge the gap in the society for the members with hearing impediment. This led her to take Masters Degree in Special Needs Education.

“So far we do not have any deaf students in the class rooms at SQU. But we are planning to and we are preparing. We just need to be quicker. Once we are ready we will need sign language interpreters in the class rooms,” pointed out Al Hashmi.

However, for deaf students if not for hearing aid and depending on the deafness, the students would need another individual assisting the lecturer with sign language. In private colleges and universities this could also mean added cost to attend the course. On the other hand it can also be an added career opportunity for sign language interpreters in Oman.

Gulf College at present has enrolled 50 students with hearing impediment supported by the Ministry of Higher of Education, according to Said al Badai. “They are mainly taking commerce. One major is not enough but the students do not have much choice. Oman must be the first Arab country to send 20 students to United States of America for higher education this year.

They are enrolled at the oldest college for the deaf in US, the Gallaudet University,” added Al Badai. The American Congress authorised the institution to confer college in 1864 and the charter was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Once the students return would they find suitable jobs would be the next question. It is not just work but also to enhance the quality of life of deaf individuals, said Al Badai. Al Badai is the first qualified sign language interpreter in Oman, “We now have ten individuals who are sign language service providers.

I am teaching at Sultan Qaboos University and Nizwa University. Tomorrow we are starting a new course in Qurum.

There is a need for more qualified sign language teachers to train the deaf. The trainers need more experience while they teach the deaf individuals. On the other hand there is a need to have a service provided at government organisations like the Royal Oman Police, Ministries and hospitals. About 70 officers in the ROP have been trained to communicate with the deaf. We see abroad individuals with hearing impediments are doctors and teachers but in the gulf we are still lagging behind.


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