By Ghadeer Ghloum
KUWAIT: During the election period, people with hearing difficulties struggle with understanding some speeches, which hinders them from taking action as part of society, especially since this mainly depends on listening to political speeches and discussions. Therefore, it is essential that differently-abled people have the same rights as everyone else and deserve equal opportunities to participate in societal activities. To advocate for the protection and equal treatment of differently-abled individuals and shed light on the necessity of their inclusion in society’s activities, Kuwait Times interviewed speech-language pathologist Maraheb Al-Qallaf and certified practicing speech pathologist (CPSP) Khadeejah Buabbas, who is also a founder of Let’s Speech Center for people with special needs.
Kuwait Times: How does having an interpreter for differently-abled people during a speech benefit both the individuals with impairments and the speaker?
Maraheb Al-Qallaf: Having an interpreter during an event promotes a sense of inclusion, diversity and equity by ensuring that everyone has equal access to the information being shared regardless of their abilities. The presence of an interpreter removes any communication barriers by providing a sense of belonging and fostering a greater level of engagement between the individuals and the speaker.
For example, we know there is a fixed time for national news every day; therefore, individuals who can hear can listen to the language spoken by the news anchor, while hearing-impaired individuals can see the interpreter on the lower corner of the screen or simply read the news anchor’s lips. An interpreter promotes effective communication between communication partners with different speaking and hearing abilities. Let’s imagine that a hearing individual hosts a big event which includes the presence of differently-abled individuals. An interpreter can provide the speaker with real-time feedback on the comprehension and engagement of the audience, allowing for adjustments and improvements when necessary.
This enables effective understanding and comprehension, ensuring that the message is accurately delivered, which enhances the overall learning experience. Therefore, individuals with disabilities feel valued and empowered. It shows respect for their communication needs and culture, and ensures their voices are heard and that their opinions matter. Such a big event embraces the diverse needs of the audience and shows their willingness to accommodate those needs. This enhances the speaker’s reputation and credibility, as it shows sensitivity and understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities.
Khadeejah Buabbas: It is crucial to promote the access and accommodation requirements for people with communication disabilities, as it is one of their basic human rights. There are many conditions that affect differently-abled people’s participation in social activities — some of them include hearing, visual and cognitive impairments, developmental language disabilities, acquired language disabilities due to neurological conditions or trauma that can affect the person’s full participation in social activities due to having underlying communication difficulties. Thus includes the inability or difficulty to understand and/ or use language.
KT: In what ways can including interpretation during a speech help to break down communication barriers and promote understanding and empathy for individuals with different forms of communication?
Qallaf: Interpretation ensures that individuals with different abilities and different forms of communication like sign language users effectively access and engage with the content of the speech. Interpreters are skilled professionals who specialize in facilitating effective communication between speakers and individuals with different communication abilities. Interpreters can accurately convey the message with their expertise, taking into consideration linguistic and cultural differences. This visual element provided by the interpreter improves understanding and facilitates a deeper connection with the speaker’s message.
Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language that accompany the interpretation contribute to showing emotions, empathy and connection. Interpretation increases awareness, encourages acceptance, deepens understanding of diversity and breaks down stereotypes, because it broadens perspectives, especially for those who have never been exposed to any other methods of communication, such as sign language. Buabbas: Speech pathologists play an important role in helping people with communication difficulties and give them access to take an active part in society, which thereby improves their quality of life.
All sectors must interpret their messages for people with difficulties, whether social, political, educational, economic, etc. Speech pathologists target the language skills required to understand the way every sector functions by using printed versions of the sample ballot or the speakers’ speech summaries. There are other strategies and technologies that can be used to enhance the quality of life of people with various disabilities, for example, by using text-to-speech technology or devices that provides text-to-speech output with adjustable speech rate, magnified visual displays, touchscreen input and paddle-switch input.
Also, allowing a personal support worker to accompany the person with disability is helpful in some cases. Kuwait Times: How can individuals without hearing and speaking impairments better understand and support the inclusion of sign language or any other means of communicating and interpretation in a speech or event?
Qallaf: Educating ourselves by learning about the history of the deaf community, their cultural significance and the importance of sign language. This is the first step towards supporting inclusion and acceptance of the deaf community, along with advocating for inclusion by learning basic signs to facilitate communication with individuals who rely on sign language as the main communication mode. People with hearing impairment know how to lipread; therefore, they are making an effort to integrate in our verbal community, and they do their best to verbalize words. Now, it is our turn to spend similar efforts to promote a better and harmonious society.
Learning a few commonly used signs can greatly help to break down barriers and show willingness to engage and connect. This will not only strengthen communication, but will also demonstrate our commitment and respect. When attending or organizing a speech or event, we need to cater to the accessibility of all differently-abled people. We tend to see only accessibility measurements made for physically disabled individuals; however, having seen many places in Western cultures, especially in opera houses and big stages, special accommodations are always considered for people with poor vision, the blind, those with hearing aids or the deaf.
Different abilities mean diversity, and diversity should be accepted, because I believe every one of us is an active citizen in society and every one of us have different potentials that contribute to a better society. By actively supporting and advocating for these measures, we contribute to creating an inclusive and supportive environment that develops a deeper appreciation for the challenges faced by individuals with different communication abilities. We need to be patient, attentive and open-minded when communicating with differently-abled individuals, and engage in meaningful conversations with individuals with disabilities by asking them about their experiences, challenges and suggestions for better inclusion.
Their insights and perspectives are greatly valued in shaping a better accepting community. Buabbas: Some basic tips and etiquettes on interacting with people with differently-abled people: Face people when talking to them and have their attention; try to reduce the distractions if you are unable to provide a quiet environment during the speech; respond, rephrase and repeat the sentences; ask for repetition politely if you do not understand; do not make assumptions about what they are trying to communicate; ask if they need help before providing it; be sensitive about physical contact; think before you speak, and always speak directly to the person and not their companion or interpreter; speak clearly and use simple language; give them more time to respond, process or read; and do not tease or laugh at people with disabilities.