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Sep 23, 2021

Belize Commemorates International Sign Language Day

This year, for the first time, Belize is commemorating International Sign Language Day, which is being held under the theme, “We Sign for Human Rights.”  It is observed annually on September twenty-third and today, News Five spoke with some of the actors about the importance of inclusive language in Belize.


Duane Moody, Reporting

There is a new focus to see inclusive language introduced on television so that those persons who understand sign language can remain just as informed as the next person. So the theme for this year’s International Sign Language Day, according to Disabilities Desk Coordinator, Marshall Nunez is fitting.


Marshall Nunez

Marshall Nunez, Disabilities Desk Coordinator, Women & Family Support Department

“It is very important that we pay attention to that this year in Belize especially with the renaissance of activities and involvement of persons with disabilities. Couple months ago, we had a meeting with all the on-air television producers including channel five and the conversation was to start include inclusive language in Public Service Announcements and emergency announcements and even news. We have had a little setback. We were hoping to get the interpreters accredited and licensed because this is going to be formal. So although we wanted to have done it quickly, we are delayed but we will get it right.  Belize needs to come onboard with the rest of the world in terms of inclusive language.”


In Belize, there are about fifteen to seventeen interpreters who practice sign language. One of those persons is Sheree Thurton, a special education teacher at Nazarene High School in Belize City. She has two siblings who are living with a disability; Thurton ended up training in the U.S. for six months before working with Stella Maris and ending up at the high school.


Sheree Thurton

Sheree Thurton, Special Education Teacher

“Here at Nazarene high school, I am blessed because Nazarene always accept these children and this is where I got the experience and a lot of practice with the deaf students and I learn a lot because here, you have to keep going, you have to learn more because every day you learn sign language. You don’t know everything in sign language but because of these children, you have to keep on your game; you have to keep studying, you have to keep researching, you have to just keep going because you want the best for them because you want them to know that yes I am here to help you succeed.”


So far, there are about five students that graduated from the high school. According to Thurton, the COVID-19 pandemic has really brought additional challenges to those persons who use sign as a means to communicate.


Sheree Thurton

“I had a lot of texts from my deaf friends saying I am frustrated, I can’t understand this, I can’t understand that. I understand your frustration because some of you only understand based on facial expression. The ones that don’t understand by facial expression also have a hard time because they are depending on the body language. And for some reason, most of my deaf friends keep telling me that it is hard because the mask is distracting. Not all deaf people sign the same, So we have to sit, observe and then interpret for them. So that’s another thing. We have to learn how to translate lessons or anything in sign language base on their way of communicating.”


A training module with manual for the training of the interpreters has been developed by the Ministry of Education and Nunez has been working to get these persons accredited.


Marshall Nunez

“The police needs interpreters, the courts need interpreters, the hospital needs interpreters because people who are deaf, when they go to the doctor or they become entangled with the law or even the courts, they need to be able to express themselves. And so there is great need for that. So we are hoping that through the efforts of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education that we can accredit and license those that are available now, but there also has to be training for others because this is going to be continuous.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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