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|WDL sign language students and deaf leaders gather for a photo at a seminar in Rural Community Leadership with (from left) interpreter Georgine Dilts and seminar leaders Jean Gordon, Dr. Charles Reilly, Nipapon Reilly (holding son Benja), and Samuel Weber. Pictured beside Weber is Ratchasuda College Director Jitprapa Sri-on.|
By Dr. Charles Reilly
A group of Gallaudet educators traveled to Thailand this summer to continue the process of empowerment of the Thai deaf community under the Nippon World Deaf Leadership Program (WDL).
For the second year, the Thailand team has trained sign language teachers and conducted skills training for rural deaf leaders. The project, "Thai Sign Language as a Vehicle of Deaf Community Empowerment," aims to empower Thai deaf people as leaders in communication, language, and education issues.
To date, there have been a number of encouraging outcomes. The most impressive development is that Thai Sign Language has been recognized in a formal resolution by The Royal Thai Government as "the national language of Thai deaf people." The rights of deaf people to learn this distinct sign language as their first language at home and in schools are affirmed in the resolution, signed on August 17 by the Permanent Secretary for Education. Specific actions will be taken by the government, including hiring deaf people as teachers and instructors of sign language in deaf schools, and providing interpreters for deaf people in higher education.
Gallaudet's WDL project has played a key role in opening the doors of the university to deaf people. Presently, 23 deaf adults are studying in the 36-credit Thai Sign Language Teaching certificate program at Ratchasuda College of Mahidol University in Salaya. Dr. Mike Kemp, chair of ASL, Linguistics, and Interpreting, and Jean Gordon, an assessor in the Center for ASL Literacy, taught four courses in sign teaching and curriculum this summer.
The first class of 11 students graduated in October as the first-time deaf graduates of a Thai university. All have been offered jobs, mostly in newly created positions in deaf schools. The government has been so pleased with the determination of the college students that the WDL program will be expanded to a B.A. program next year, with the provision of 170 full scholarships.
The benefits of Gallaudet's WDL project are being spread to the rural deaf community through outreach and leadership training seminars. From July 16-21, the National Association of the Deaf in Thailand brought together 25 rural deaf leaders for a Seminar in Rural Community Leadership. Led by Dr. Charles Reilly and Bev Buchanan, dean of students at Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf, the training focused on participatory leadership and working relationships between local deaf clubs and the new sign language teachers.
Two teachers from Gallaudet's Pre-College National Mission Programs, Samuel Weber and Nipapon Reilly, gave lectures on early childhood education and the role of signing deaf adults. In light of the government's creation of new teaching positions in deaf schools, many of Thailand's newly minted sign language teachers will ultimately be helping children learn Thai Sign Language. Accordingly, in the upcoming year the Gallaudet WDL team will enhance training in Thailand with course work in early childhood education and language acquisition.
In addition to Thailand, a WDL project is taking place in South Africa. The Thai effort is being led by Reilly, who is also a research scientist in the Gallaudet Research Institute; the South Africa project is led by Dr. Patricia Johanson, an associate professor in the Department of Business Administration, Economics, and Finance. The WDL Program is administered by Dr. Reginald Redding, dean of the College for Continuing Education, in cooperation with a steering committee headed by Dr. Yerker Andersson. Dr. Joseph Kinner an associate professor in the Department of Government and History, heads the WDL Executive Committee.
(The WDL’s outreach efforts in Burma will be covered in the next issue of On the Green.)