In a historic move, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Sign Language Bill into law on Wednesday, 19 July 2023, officially recognizing South African Sign Language (SASL) as an official language in the country. This momentous occasion marks a significant milestone for democratic South Africa and has the potential to positively impact the lives of many people.
The recognition of SASL as an official language is a crucial step towards realizing the vision of the late President Nelson Mandela, who aspired to build a democratic and free society where everyone lives together in harmony with equal opportunities. As the custodian of the Republic of South Africa’s National Language Policy, Minister Zizi Kodwa has welcomed this development and emphasized the importance of language not only as a means of communication but also as a tool for social inclusion and participation.
By acknowledging SASL as an official language, the South African government takes a momentous stride towards promoting broader inclusion and deeper participation in the nation’s democracy. For the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, this recognition holds significant implications as it validates their language and cultural identity, providing them with greater access to social, economic, and political spheres.
Minister Kodwa stressed the role of various sectors under the Department of Sport, Arts, and Culture in leading by example and promoting values of social inclusion and participation. It is vital for all sectors to embrace and incorporate SASL actively, moving beyond mere rhetoric and taking concrete actions that embody the vision of inclusion in South Africa’s democracy.
The recognition of SASL as an official language also has practical implications for various industries, particularly those catering to financial services, credit, lending, personal finance, motor vehicles, insurances, and banking. These sectors are now presented with an opportunity to enhance their services to better accommodate the needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
Financial institutions can explore innovative ways to provide banking services in SASL, such as through online platforms or interactive video calls with sign language interpreters. Insurance companies can ensure that their policies and contracts are available in SASL, making them accessible to a broader audience. Moreover, automobile dealerships can create a more inclusive car-buying experience by offering SASL interpreters during negotiations and transactions.
While the process of implementing SASL across various sectors may pose some challenges, the benefits of fostering a more inclusive society far outweigh any obstacles. As businesses and institutions adapt to the new linguistic landscape, they contribute to breaking down communication barriers, fostering diversity, and promoting social cohesion.
The recognition of SASL as an official language also opens doors for research and development in technology that supports SASL communication. Tech-savvy individuals can explore opportunities in developing apps, software, and devices that facilitate easy communication for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
In conclusion, the official recognition of South African Sign Language is a significant leap forward for the nation. It reflects the commitment of South Africa to building an inclusive society, where every citizen can actively participate in the country’s economic, social, and political life. As the nation embraces this new chapter, it is essential for all sectors to play their part in making SASL an integral part of South Africa’s linguistic landscape and ensuring that language truly becomes a bridge for unity and understanding.