More than 300 have completed community coursework
YENIA SILVA CORREA
THE Declaration of the Rights of the Deaf, approved by the 6th Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), identifies 1,260 professions or trades in which hearing is not required and calls for an end to barriers to communication in all walks of life. Yet, the reality faced by this group is not always a supportive one.
Since 1951, the World Federation of the Deaf has united national associations, currently some 130 from all geographic regions. Cuba's association, ANSOC, also belongs to the Caribbean and Latin American regional body and one of its members represents deaf women within the organization.
In Cuba, interpreters for the hearing impaired community are academically trained. The country's 23,000 ANSOC members need these linguistic experts who mediate between persons who hear and those who don't.
Yoel Moya Pérez de Corcho, deputy research director of the National Center for Training and Development of the Deaf (CENDSOR), explained, "The academic training of Cuban Sign Language interpreters began during the 2004-2005 school year. Before that point, the interpreters available had learned the language empirically or in basic courses offered by ANSOC."
In 2004, technical education began, with a program certifying basic professional interpreters of Cuban Sign Language (LSC) and a first cohort of students began advanced studies within the University of Havana's Foreign Languages Department.
Currently, a group including both hearing and deaf students are completing their fifth year in Havana, set to graduate with degrees in Cuban Sign Language Interpretation, and the possibility of extending the academic program to Santiago de Cuba's Universidad de Oriente and Universidad Central in Villa Clara is under consideration.
"The majority of our interpreters have completed technical level training, offered in all provinces. More than 500 have graduated," the expert continued.
Another option he described is open courses for those interested in LSC as a second language. The only requirement is a desire to communicate better with the deaf, and 300-plus students from the population at large have attended three-month courses offered by deaf professors who work with groups of up to 20 participants.
CUBA, A BILINGUAL COUNTRY?
"Among our plans for investigative work are projects focused on social issues - affective and social, as well as work-related. This involves work with the family and different social groups within the deaf community," said Moya Pérez de Corcho.
In addition to programs with groups of deaf youth and adolescents who are at risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases, CENDSOR is concentrating on research efforts which will provide data supporting the legal recognition of Cuban Sign Language.
"LSC is recognized socially – but not from the legal point of view – by the Institute of Literature and Linguistics, or the Language Academy, the body which must make this recognition and take it to Parliament, to be approved as the official language of Cuba's deaf community," the deputy director noted.
Although LSC has been used as a pedagogical alternative since the 1990's, in order to attain legal status, its social/cultural, linguistic and didactic elements must be validated.
The steps taken by CENDSOR in this direction include the publication of six LSC bilingual manuals and the first dictionary, which should be released toward the end of 2013, as a multimedia entitled Diccionario por Configuraciones.
MUCH TO BE DONE
Enrollment in schools for the deaf in Cuba is declining. Progress made with cochlear implants has prompted many families to place their children in regular educational programs.
Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education and CENDSOR are working together to guarantee interpretation services to the deaf community and support its members’ full integration into society.
Currently, according to Roger Milán, national coordinator of interpreters, Cuba has more than 700 professional Cuban Sign Language interpreters, among the largest teams in the region, and is looking to continue improving their skills.
All of these efforts have but one goal, the inclusion of deaf persons in all spheres of Cuban society.