Embracing Diversity in Deaf Communities

img_2260I attended the 5th WFD Asia Conference in Singapore from October 14 ~ 16 of this 2016 year. The event was held at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Centre located in Singapore’s business district and right on the edge of the Marina Bay near Raffles Palace. It was a perfect spot for the conference as one could just walk over to some of Singapore’s most famous sites or enjoy some tasty Singapore cuisines before or after the meetings.

At the conference, more than 500 delegates from Asia countries came to the conference as delegates or presenters to learn and talk about diversity in our Deaf communities. I gave a short talk on the first morning of the conference. I talked about Deaf foreign nationals in host countries. My presentation didn’t reflect any study rather more suggest that a study probably should be done as more Deaf people are not just travelling abroad but actually moving to live and work abroad with temporary or permeant residency status and Deaf refugees are more visible now than ever before.

I talked about foreign-born nationals in host countries and shared studies that define who the foreign born nationals are and their experience. Foreign-born nationals often include spouse or family of country national, corporate employees, university students, expatriates, and some countries include refugees. They are not those foreign travellers, visiting guests or unauthorised migrants.

My presentation showed that while many countries have established programs that support foreign-born nationals in their country, many Deaf foreign nationals do not have access to these programs. Some countries will contact Deaf Associations for help or dispatch a sign language interpreter to these programs, however, it’s a question of whether the Deaf foreign born national can understand the language communicated to him or her. And we know very little whether the foreign born national was able to assimilate into host country Deaf community and society. Some Deaf people have shown that they were capable of assimilation while there are many others who struggle for various reasons or are ignored by members of the community and society.

Also discussed was the current global human migration that increases by 2% annually. Also that there are new migration trends popping up in our societies. The new migration trends are clearly due to international travel and trading that is more accessible and open. And we know that human migration is hardly anything new in our world history. People moved to different regions for various reasons, be it because of war, economic, persecution, disaster or family. The largest group of migrants today, are due to family, having relatives in other countries. It stands at 35% of world migration. Humanitarian or refugees are only 8% of the total global human migration. There’s a grey zone with the labour migration with studies that shows various measures. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) describes that labour migration is down 10% but in another study shows that there is a rising migration trend call the “free movement” that is up 12% and is 30% of the global human migration. The free movement includes labour migration however because of the free movement across borders, work visas are not required and it becomes difficult to count the purpose of persons crossing borders. The free movement migration rises mostly from Europe due to the Europe Union (EU) that has allowed members to cross borders without previously required visas. The EU freedom of movement has also influenced other countries to relax their visa requirements and extend temporary visas for specific guests to their countries. These human migrants are labelled as expatriates (expats) who live and work in other countries. It’s a term given to identify migrants who are not refugees but a person who moved into another country for other reasons, most likely for work. In another study by Finaccord, a finance consultant company in the UK, stated that expatriates have increased greatly to a record of 50.5 million worldwide and that by end of 2017 there will be 56.8 million. It reported that 73.6% are professional workers and the remaining 12.8% were students, retirees (also called lifestyle migrants), ethnic community experts and company transferees.

I added some interesting facts about world human migration and Japan, the country where I live and work. I explained that many reports stated that the US has the highest immigration standing at 19.8% of the global human migration and that Saudi Arabia has the largest foreign-born residence that is 32.3% of the total residence population in the country. I asked how many might have been a Deaf foreign born national there. I don’t think there has been any track of this because in Japan we do know how many people are Deaf or hard of hearing but we do not know whether the number includes foreign-born nationals and how many people use sign language. In Japan, as part of my focus, because I have a permeant residence in the country, I discuss the issue, partly because the country is rapidly increasing a foreign-born population in the country at the rate of 5.2% since 2014. Japan’s increasing foreign-born population is due to the country’s need for manpower. This is due to Japan’s low birthrate and increasing senior society. Also, Japan needs much help in the development and planning for the 2020 Olympics. It has opened the country to qualified foreign-born nationals but we do not know how many families with Deaf children have moved to Japan, nor do we know about any Deaf foreign nationals who have migrated to Japan to live with their family or for work.

14657462_10208569503649699_4000490739653495029_nAn important movement involving foreign-born nationals in Japan, I shared, was that after  March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan, that shook the country and governing systems. After the earthquake and tsunami, Japan rushed to help people in the area and found that they had nothing prepared for foreign-born nationals who were also victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Governments realised that they needed to improve or establish systems to address foreign-born nationals in the country. And so after one year, the Japan Ministry of foreign Affairs (MOFA) established a series of workshops addressing the lives and needs of foreigners in the country. I have participated in a few of these events and presented on the subject of Deaf foreign nationals in the country.

More interesting was that Japan exclaims to have discovered new market opportunities that rose from hosting foreign-born nationals in their country. Many Japanese saw the need for consulting, relocation and settlement services, language and culture education, translations and interpreting services and immigration assistance. And also they saw that free movement for Japanese to live abroad has some economical advantages. Right now there is a boom in these services to foreign-born nationals. Public services aim to include foreign-born nationals on their agenda and in their services. Several hospitals have included a new system of medical interpreting dispatch. It has been debated whether sign language should be listed as a foreign language because of the shared needs and functions of interpreting systems. Japanese sign language interpretation is currently dispatched from the social welfare office. Some prefectures are trying to move sign language interpretation with foreign languages. But there are some people who disagree with the proposal.

Following my discussion on global human migration, I asked people in the room if they notice any Deaf migrants in their country. I saw a few head nodded and was most sure that we all saw this trend growing in our Deaf communities too. Next, I asked, how did we learn about them. I’ve observed by talking to members of the Deaf community that we often we hear about deaf foreigners from other people. Or we learn about them in news articles or read in case reports or disability journals. Sometimes we learn about Deaf foreign nationals in country’s adult training programs or at the immigration services. Sometimes we find Deaf foreign nationals with permeant residence as active members in National Associations of the Deaf. Though there appears to be no data collection or study about Deaf foreign nationals in many countries.

In addition, I discussed Japan’s New Disability Law that was erected April 1, 2016. The law, the Elimination of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities protects some 7.88 million disabled people including Deaf Japanese. It is not clear whether it includes Deaf foreign nationals in Japan or whether it should. The new law aims towards to creating accessibility and barrier-free environments. The law is very important to Deaf people in Japan. And it is as well important to Deaf foreign born nationals who have a permeant residence in the country. It is important because many Deaf foreign born nationals depend on sign language interpreters and communication technology for participation in Japanese society. The quality of Sign Language interpreters is very important to Deaf foreign-born nationals in Japan. The right to International Sign interpreter or Deaf Interpreters should be included on the agenda for new developments and services to Deaf population in Japan. Also, many Deaf foreign born nationals do not have a place to voice their frustrations, thoughts or rights. I suggested that National Organisations of the Deaf be a place where Deaf Foreign Nationals can voice their needs and rights. Though while it is true the number of Deaf foreign born nationals may be very small, they should not be marginalised, especially when new social trends open up to the hearing and speaking community and to Deaf nationals of a country. Deaf foreign born nationals should ride the new wave with others by being included no matter how small or large. Indeed many Deaf foreign nationals pay taxes and they should be respected.

img_3305At the end of my presentation, I explained that diversity is our advantage. Any organisation that opens up to foreign-born nationals will have an increased membership. Not only this, Deaf foreigners will advocate for sign language rights along with other Deaf members of the organisation in a country. Also rather more exciting is that Deaf foreigners can offer information about their country by teaching other members their country’s sign language as well as offering awareness about their culture and heritage. Networking will be an advantage too. I suggested that National Organisations of the Deaf should include Deaf foreign-born nationals in their organisation, encourage them to form a group or community, offer sign language classes to members of the organisation, receive counselling and support. And it will seem urgent to include them in the evaluation of sign language interpreters and communication technologies. I asked are there any reasons not to invite them to voice on development agendas. Deaf foreign born nationals can keep us aware of any social developments that might include every one of us when we travel abroad. National Organisations of the Deaf should give all members the opportunity to learn from each other about their cultures.

I ended that I thought it would be an educational and fun opportunity to include Deaf foreign nationals as members of your organisation. And that we should embrace Deaf foreign-born nationals in the same way we embrace our Deaf women, youth, DeafBlind, Deaf with disabilities, gays and lesbians and our sign language interpreters.

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