Students of the Wangsel Institute for the Deaf in Paro requested communities to accept the deaf community as a part of their community by learning sign language and communicate with them.

This was the message the students passed through sign language interpreters, as they celebrated the international week of the deaf yesterday with the theme “sign language rights for all.”

Nima Tshering, 24, the institute’s captain said although he can communicate in signs, he had to face a lot of challenges including social stigma. “I was sad because I couldn’t communicate with my mother and friends. I wanted to go to school but I couldn’t.”

In 2009, Nima joined Wangsel Institute. Nima said that sign language should be included in the Bhutanese language to give them rights to the language.

“This will make us feel we belong to the community and get our own identity. Today, I am proud that I can communicate and learn, however, the community also must learn the sign languages.”

Vice-principal Norbu said that sign language is not meant only for the deaf people but for all. He said hearing people need to understand and learn sign language for communication to bring together deaf people in the community.  “Hearing community should render support to deaf people to have the right to information, which is through communication.”

Kinley Pelden realised his son was deaf at the age of two and he did everything to cure the deafness. “I started talking with my son with finger-pointing and hand gestures. It was so difficult to learn his feelings and most of the time I assumed what he was saying.”

Everything changed after his son went to Wangsel institute. “This has made me realised that the support should first come from parents and then the community,” she said. “It empowers our children and I encourage parents to learn sign language.”

The institute provides an opportunity for parents to learn sign languages at the institute for one hour on Fridays.

Vice-principal Norbu said the deaf people need a platform and this should come from the community and parents should come forward to bring their students to the institute instead of feeling embarrassed, which is the case today.

Deaf teacher, Chencho Dem, said that early intervention was important.”Support should start as soon as parents find out the child is deaf,” she said. She said most of the children come with zero sign language and no foundation, which is why the institute now provides sign language classes for five months before starting the age-appropriate education.

“Since we’ve less deaf population right now, it has not received much importance and the only information the child get is from their parents through hand gestures,” she said. “Without early interventions, the child loses the language acquisition period.”

Funded by the Australian Volunteer International under the disability grant scheme, one of the week’s programme includes creating awareness for high-level officials and stakeholders in the ministries and organisations to give importance to deaf culture and community.

As per the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) there are 3,650 hard of hearing people and 1,344 are deaf.