New Delhi, Sept. 22: The Union cabinet today gave the go-ahead to set up a national sign language institute, setting the stage for a single and standardised set of signs that would have to be followed across the country.
There is no such standard norm now, which often leaves people with hearing impairment at a loss to understand technical terms.
Sometimes, trained personnel use a continuous sign to represent technical words, while most finger-spell.
Awanish Kumar Awasthi, a senior official in the ministry of social justice and empowerment, said it would be the first time that an independent sign language institute would come up in the country.
"The idea is to standardise sign language and make it easier for the hearing impaired to go for higher studies. While the Indian sign language exists, there is currently no standard norm. We also plan to diversify into regional variations of the sign language," Awasthi, joint secretary in the department of disability affairs, added.
Most countries have their own sign languages. In Germany, for instance, there are sign language dictionaries for subjects as varied as psychology, IT and gardening.
Austria's Center for Sign Language and Deaf Communication has a specific database of technical signs that are followed all over the country.
According to officials in the social justice ministry, there are around 50 lakh people with hearing impairment but only a few interpreters, making it extremely difficult for those with disabilities to pursue a job or even higher education.
It is possibly because of this, the officials said, that the hearing impaired fail to even fill up the one per cent government jobs reserved for them.
Shanti Lal Porwal, president, All India Deaf and Dumb Society, said the cabinet nod was a "great step" forward.
"As of now, there are no texts for sign languages in India. This is very important, especially for educational reading material. In fact, sign language is not even recognised in India, this will be a great step forward."
Porwal also said a universal sign language would enable "able-bodied people who want to learn the language to interact with all hearing impaired people more easily".
Awasthi said the proposed Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre would develop a standardised course content, which would be taught from Class X to postgraduation.
But Vaishna Narang, a professor at the Center for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, felt standardisation would work only if sign language is taught in schools. "Standardisation will come only after the government makes primary education accessible to the hearing impaired," Narang said.