Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bursa library home to array of sign language books

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A two-year-old Bursa library specialized in serving the deaf and hearing impaired offers them access to Turkish Sign Language resources and translators.

Thirty translators specialized in Turkish Sign Language, which with a 525-year history is among the world's oldest forms of sign language, are employed at the library. In Bursa, there are two elementary schools (one of which is a boarding school) and one high school serving the hearing impaired. The high school educates students not just from Turkey but from 26 other countries as well. Some mosques in Bursa also deliver Friday sermons in sign language.

During the Ottoman era, sign language was commonly used in the palace, and it became an official national language in 2005 through a parliamentary decision. Bursa is something of a center of sign language in Turkey, making it befitting for this province to host the world's first sign language library. Hearing impaired individuals who use the library are aided by translators, who help them learn new words they don't know, and those who are unable to read and write can watch specially prepared video CDs featuring books translated into sign language.

Library founder Recep ┼×ahin says the library intends to expand access to books and the knowledge contained therein to the deaf and hard of hearing. He explained that the Hearing Impaired Persons' Union was founded in Bursa and contains members from Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and other European countries. The union decided two years ago to establish the library. “Before launching the library, we traveled to 86 countries to draw upon their experiences [in providing services to the deaf and hard of hearing],” he said.

Translators on call 24 hours

The library's activities are fueled by the work of students and housewives who volunteer their services as Turkish Sign Language translators. In addition to helping out at the library, they are on call 24 hours a day to assist police stations, educational institutions, hospitals and medical establishments in translation. “The 30 translators working at our library can be sent wherever they are needed. In particular, we regularly dispatch them to courthouses and police departments. We've seen that educated persons who are hearing impaired have particularly limited vocabularies; there haven't been sufficient efforts to ensure the application of new learning methods outside of sign language with these individuals,” ┼×ahin said.

Noting that members of his union travel abroad to gain familiarity with new teaching methods, he continued: “Following our research, we decided to open a sign language library. When locals who are hearing impaired come across an unfamiliar word as they are reading, they are able to have the word's meaning explained to them by one of our translators. But there are certainly many words that a hearing-impaired person will encounter in a book that they're not able to understand. As our translators explain the basics of what's happening, we record this, and later this is transferred to a CD, and we provide free copies of these CDs to the reader.”