A Clonmel councillor whose sister was born deaf, is supporting a national campaign to have Irish Sign Language (ISL) officially recognised by the State. Cllr Gabrielle Egan said that she and the rest of her family never had the opportunity to learn the language when they were younger and while they communicate with her sister by lip-reading, she believes that it is just as important for people who can hear to learn how to use sign language. She also spoke of her sister’s frustration at the lack of interpretors when she has tried to access services.
“It is very difficult for people to understand them, especially when they need certain services and there is never an interpretor available. Anywhere my sister has to go, I have to go too, to communicate for her,” said Cllr Egan who retold the time her sister fractured her shoulder and when she went to hospital, was asked to write down what happened her because no interpretor service was available. This is a common occurrence, according to Cllr Egan, which can leave her sister feeling isolated at times. “We need hearing people to sign too, and the younger a person is taught, the more people will be able to sign,” she said.
The campaign which is being lead by the Irish Deaf Society is asking the Government to officially recognise ISL as a language. Approximately 40,000 deaf and hearing people use ISL. English would be considered as a second language for deaf people and up to 80% of deaf adults would have an English reading level of an eight or nine-year-old. Official recognition would promote greater awareness of the language and enforce the right of deaf people to access essential information in ISL. It would also provide certainty that interpretor services would be available for job interviews, using health services, interviews with gardai and in court.