Thursday, October 29, 2009

Municipality launches project to teach clergy sign language

Source Link - Municipality launches project to teach clergy sign language

The Istanbul municipality is sponsoring a course on sign language to ease communication with deaf and hearing-impaired citizens. A group of 40 imams from mosques across the city is now attending the course.

A group of 40 imams has voluntarily enrolled in a sign-language course in an attempt to foster better communication with hearing-impaired worshippers.

The imams volunteered for the course being run by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in response to a call from the office of the mufti (Islamic scholar) last April.

The course is being held at the headquarters of the Department of Health and Social Services Directorate for Disabled People, or İSÖM, which is run by the Istanbul municipality.

The imams will attend classes once a week for three hours over the course of three months. They will receive certificates upon completion of the course, at which point it is expected that they will be able to communicate in sign language at a basic level.

Hüseyin Tohumcu, one of the imams to enroll in the course, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review he was pleased to learn sign language because it would allow him to help disabled Muslims practice their religion.

“We should reach out to disabled Muslim worshippers. Imams should address the religious needs of hearing-impaired worshippers as much as they do for able worshippers,” said Tohumcu, who preaches at a mosque in Istanbul’s Haznedar district.

İsmail Tüfekçi, another imam attending the course, said he started to communicate using sign language just three weeks into the course.

“The lessons are fruitful. We are learning 10 to 15 words every lesson. I believe I will improve my ability to communicate in a short time,” said Tüfekçi, an imam at Cumhuriyet Mosque in the city’s Kağıthane district.

Prior to enrolling in this course, Tüfekçi also attended a class on Braille to help him communicate with visually impaired Muslims.

Three of the instructors of the course are hearing impaired themselves.

Samet Demirbaş, one of the hearing-impaired teachers, believes that close dialogue between teacher and student is vital for the preachers to learn this special language in a short time.

“I have tried to encourage them to repeat every word. Therefore, we do not allow classes of more than 15 people,” said Demirbaş, who added that he was pleased to see increasing attention paid to the course.

“I do not know how many students I have met so far, but I am happy to teach them,” he said.

The course is part of an education program that has been implemented since 2004. Nearly 1,700 public employees – including police officers, nurses and municipal patrol staff – have previously enrolled in this course and learned sign language.

İSÖM expects at least 3,000 people take the class within the next two years.

Yunus Karacalı, deputy director of İSÖM, said he was pleased to see increasing interest in the course among people from different levels of society and different professional backgrounds.

“We are happy with the increasing attention given to the course. Anybody who wants to learn sign language can call us to register,” he said.

The ongoing campaign also aims to support the government’s efforts to help disabled citizens in society.

İSÖM officials, supported by the Turkish National Federation of the Deaf, have set up a committee to work on a guidebook, which they hope will serve as an acceptable model for future projects for people with hearing impairments in Turkey.

Ercüment Tanrıverdi, president of the Turkish National Federation of the Deaf, said the group hopes the guidebook, which is still being drafted, will broaden the use of sign language in Turkey.

When the guidebook is published, it will include many words, simple sentences, pictures and examples that make it easy to communicate with people who have hearing impairments.

“We have researched where hearing-impaired people communicate with others the most. For example, you may come across a disabled driver in traffic or a deaf patient at the hospital at any time,” Tanrıverdi said. “The words, sentences and dialogues have been specifically designed to remove difficulties in communicating with hearing-impaired people.”