Education4th June 2015

Leading and Pushing for Change, Braam Jordaan's Representation Promises Great Things

Young, vibrant and energetic, pushing for change for Deaf people has fast become a matter of principle

by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

BraamLooking back at Deaf history, the Deaf community worldwide has been blessed with the support and representation from some wonderful people. I shudder to think where we might be without them. Some of these were well-meaning and caring hearing people and others influential and persuasive Deaf people. Here in the UK through this work, large swathes of businesses and business people supported Deaf people locally, providing money to build and run Deaf Clubs as well as other support.

Over time things have changed, the attitude to social responsibility in respect of Deaf people being one of the biggest changes. There is still a lot of money made available, but more so than ever before, that money goes to national and local charities, with less of it finding its way into direct support for deaf people. Through the development of more national and local Deaf organisations, there has also been a rise in the number of people working in representative roles, many of them holding those positions of power and influence over long periods of time.

Looking across the spectrum of representation world-wide, I have long since worried about the engagement and understanding of the needs of young deaf people. That is why I am delighted that relatively young people like Braam Jordaan are actively involved on the world stage, pushing, pulling and cajoling the changes young deaf people need to be able to fulfil their potential in life.

Catching up with Braam recently, I was keen to ask him about his work, and how he came to hold such significant positions at such a young age.

Starting out in high school, Braam participated in the Law Commission Workshop at The Bastion in Newlands, Cape Town and aged just 16 he attended the first-ever Deaf Youth Leadership Camp in Durban. Because of that involvement, he was elected to attend the National Youth Policy Commission in Midrand in 1998 and a life fighting the cause for others began.

An advocate for Deaf children including the right to choose to be taught in sign language, Braam considers the lack of signed teaching in education to be one of the major issues faced by Deaf children today. "Education is a right for deaf children and it is one of the key post-2015 development goals," Braam told me. "Access to education in sign language is essential. This means employing teachers who are qualified in the national sign language and training teachers at all levels of education to work with deaf students as stipulated in Article. 24.4 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD)."

"Without the ability to use sign language on the most basic level, deaf children and students face significant barriers to being independent. Communication skills are fundamental to getting jobs and participating in the communities and family life. The policies look good on paper but are they really enforced and applied fairly?"

Fulfiling increasingly higher profile roles, Braam has gone on to represent the World Federation of the Deaf and World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section at three Conferences about the rights of people with a disability including the delivery of the Statement about Sign Language in Education at the panel of Youth with Disabilities.

Asking him why he became involved in the United Nations work, Braam said, "The only way for things to change is for you to get involved and change them. I am also doing this for the cultural pride I inherited as a Deaf person. I also enjoy advocating for Sign Language and the Human Rights of Deaf people worldwide."

In addition to his work with the United Nations, Braam is also currently serving as a Youth Council Member of the UNICEF Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities. "It has been a life changing experience for me, especially with the platform given to raise issues, to build, to contribute and importantly to make an impact at the high-level meetings," he explained. "It has enabled me to work closely with governments and its stakeholders."

"I presented at a UNICEF Activate Talks event, which take place globally and bring together innovators to discuss major issues confronting the most marginalised children throughout the world. During my talk I discussed the dearth of sign language interpreters in the health field globally and the barriers it creates for Deaf persons, including the lack of vital health-related information. I also powerfully emphasised that communication access is essential for accurate health treatment for both Deaf persons and hearing professionals."

Whilst progress on the ground for Deaf people can seem painfully slow, Braam firmly believes that the United Nations is making a difference to Deaf people's lives, most notably through the platform it provides for Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities to fight for full equality and participation in social, economic and political life. "While the United Nations is not a governing power that makes laws," Braam told me, "It provides guidelines in order to prevent human rights volitions. No matter how small or poor a nation is, it still has a "voice" and a say in the development of the world. This is the concrete reason why the UN is important."

Improvement comes from having ambitions and setting goals, a discipline Braam seems to follow. Asking him what he hopes to achieve in the long, he commented decisively, "I hope to achieve equality for Deaf people in different walks of life by improving the status of national sign languages, access to information and services and better education. I would love to see more visibility of Deaf leaders and advocacy workers around the world at the high-level meetings in New York and Geneva."

Commenting on where things are in respect of the disability convention, Braam recognises that there is more to do. "Much more needs to be done to make it a reality for every one of us. Although many Government policies, strategies and political statements purport to promote social inclusion, the progress towards this goal is still very slow. In many countries, Deaf and Hard of Hearing people continue to be segregated in society, often for life. Many of those people, especially in the rural areas, are excluded from society because of the lack of communication accessibility, education in Sign language and early childhood development to enable them to participate in the community."

With a particular interest in Deaf education because of its strategic importance in Deaf people's lives, Braam is fighting for far more to be done by countries around the world. Commenting, specifically about the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with a Disability and the subsection on Deaf education, linguistics and Deaf culture, I asked Braam how well he thought member states, including Great Britain had responded.

"The results vary. One might expect that upon ratification of the CRPD, governments would immediately have started planning policies, programmes and actions to implement its provisions. Unfortunately, to some degree, this has not been the case. The CRPD tends to be regarded as a benchmark and remains an expression of intention and a rhetorical promise, with no robust action having been taken for effective implementation."

Having looked at the last update by the UK government, I concur with Braam's assessment, with introduction of the Equality Act alone seemingly sufficient to respond positively to the Conventions requirements. Compliance with that legislation, a hardening of the woolliness around 'reasonable adjustment', and a proper response regarding the linguistic identity of the Deaf community seem not to matter to the UK Government. Against this dismissive backdrop to the UN Convention, I asked Braam what more needed to be done.

"Deaf people continue to experience high levels of marginalisation and exclusion due to a general lack of understanding of Deaf culture, lack of Sign Language proficiency, and the availability of and expense associated with professional sign language interpreter services.  This limits the social participation and integration of Deaf people. One way of addressing this marginalisation is having Sign Language recognised as an official language in the Bill, Law or Constitution. The majority of the countries need to seriously discuss this matter if we are going to walk the talk in advancing the rights of Deaf people."

Rounding off my chat with Braam, I was keen to ask him what three changes he would make in respect of Deaf life if he had the opportunity.

  • Eliminate the common misconceptions that people who speak well are perceived as a ‘normal’ person. Sign Language is a natural language that freely and comfortably fulfills the communicative needs of a community.
  • Active participation of qualified Deaf people in the decision making and policy making processes. This is key in unlocking the door of freedom and equality for Deaf people in society.
  • Acknowledgement of the fact that sign language interpretation is mutually beneficial between the Deaf community and society, enabling professionals to execute their task properly and without any risk or barrier.

Still young, I am delighted to learn that people like him have the opportunity to input new thinking and high energy into the long established representative procedures of the UN, WFD, UNICEF and other bodies, engaging with young deaf people along the way.

For many 40 somethings like me, change will not come fast enough. Many Deaf people of my age will forever be subject to the life-limiting outcomes imposed through inappropriate education, and a voice biased society, but without wanting to put too much pressure on his young shoulders, I hope Braam and other young people like him, will generate energy behind governments and society doing the right thing by Deaf and Hard of Hearing people.

Article by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

posted in Community / Education

4th June 2015