Signing the future

South Africa was a proud delegate to the 2015 Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf

With the theme of strengthening human diversity, the XVII World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf, recently held in Istanbul, addressed key issues affecting the deaf.

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), established in Italy in 1951, is one of the oldest global organisations of people with disabilities, representing 70 million deaf people on five continents.

It works closely with the United Nations (UN) and its various agencies, including the World Health Organization, to promote equal opportunities and full participation in society by deaf individuals in every country.

The South African delegation was led by South African National Council for the Deaf (DEAFSA) President Ms Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen and included national and provincial directors as well as the director responsible for Disability Rights, Zain Bulbulia, from the office of the Premier in Gauteng.

The conference and commissions paid particular attention to these topics:

  • Government needs to change its policy to accommodate people with disabilities.
  • We need to empower one another.
  • Diversity should take into account the individuality of deaf people.
  • Criticism of “inclusion” in the context of the deaf is an important target in education.
  • For the WFD, societal and education inclusion is reached by sign-bilingual education (not special education).
  • Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand.
  • Diversity should be respected.
  • It is important to work with government and human rights organisations to educate the deaf community about their human rights.

The following principles were also considered:

  • A deaf person should be informed about the deaf world.
  • Deaf children need to be immersed in the deaf world.
  • Deaf educators’ knowledge and experience should be incorporated in the curriculum.
  • There should be interaction between the deaf and the hearing educators to encourage mutual respect.
  • The natural bond between deaf educators and deaf students should be acknowledged and encouraged.
  • There should be engagement with the hearing community.
  • Teach children to communicate in sign language and to respect hearing people.

Various international deaf leaders outlined their country’s challenges facing deaf citizens. South Africa has advanced in both policies and technology to continue to close gaps that people with disabilities are facing in all areas of accessibility. South Africa was also acknowledged to be one of the leaders on the continent in regard to programmes and plans for deaf citizens. A plan to improve on the effects on the deaf community will be developed in partnership with Deafsa and the Provincial Government of Gauteng for its deaf citizens.

The next World Congress WFD will take place in France in 2019 – and it’ll be an opportunity to showcase what progress South Africa can claim in this crucial arena.

Zain Bulbulia led the South African government delegation team to the United Nations (UN), New York, for the ratification and signing of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability. He is currently the acting head for gender, youth and disability in the planning commission of the Premier of Gauteng. email:

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