Listening to the hearing impaired

Shilu Sharma presenting news in sign language for Nepal Television. Courtesy: Shuli Sharma/ Facebook

In 2013, a government directive required every national television channel that broadcasts news to broadcast it in sign language at least once a day. Seven years later, even the government-owned NTV broadcasts news in sign language only once a week. The other channels don’t bother.

The reason given for this is the lack of sign interpreters, and for NTV the lack of the extra camera needed to include sign narration.

According to Nepal's laws, sign-language interpreters should be available not just in public offices, but also for budget speeches and discussions in Parliament. Since there are only 20 recognised professional interpreters in the country, however, deaf people are not getting the facilities to which they are entitled.

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In the first Constituent Assembly, the Parliament secretariat had employed interpreter Radha Bohora to sign for MP Raghav Vir Joshi from NCP (Samyukta). Joshi's private secretary Dinesh Shrestha also worked as an interpreter. But Parliament has not employed an interpreter after that.

"Even though it is not possible to provide interpretation facilities everywhere, they should be available in crucial places like hospitals, schools, and police stations," says K P Adhikari, president of National Deaf Federation Nepal.

The Sign Language Interpreter Association has 60 members. But many of them have since changed their profession. "Interpreters work on a project basis. When projects end, they become unemployed, so there is no professional security for them," explains the group’s Shilu Sharma.

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Nanu Shrestha Jayana used to present the news in sign language on Nepal Television. After working for more than 13 years as an interpreter, she quit. "We don't get regular work, so I could not stick to this profession. I still provide the service for free if anyone needs it," she says.

Dinesh Shrestha has been working as an interpreter for 12 years, but does not have a certificate to prove his skills. Some countries require interpreters to study for two years and work for a year before being certified, but here there is disagreement about who should be responsible for certification. Interpreter Sanu Khimbaja believes the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare should issue the certificate, but the Ministry has passed the buck to the Ministry of Education.

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The Nepali sign language also has a limited vocabulary, and interpreters are hard pressed to communicate difficult or subject-specific words and names of people and places. "There are many words for which there are no signs, and that creates difficulties when presenting news on television. We spell these words out, but we are not sure if the viewers understand the spellings," says Shilu Sharma.

Interpreter Dinesh Shrestha, who worked for former MP Joshi, also says he found his job difficult because there are no signs for many political and legal terms, and these are difficult to communicate through spelling.

The Deaf Federation has been working to further develop Nepali sign language, and five years ago it published a new dictionary with 4,700 words.

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