Deaf people are among the most isolated and marginalised in the world. This is particularly true in developing countries, where the vast majority of them don’t have access to education and therefore never learn to communicate.
What’s more, very few Deaf people have access to Scripture. That is why various Bible agencies, including us at United Bible Societies (UBS), are working together to change that. Here at UBS we are looking at new funding initiatives to help us make more Scriptures available in more sign languages – the main means of communication used by millions of Deaf people.
As I did some research into sign language, I came across some key facts that surprised and challenged me:
1. People born deaf struggle to read
They have never heard so they struggle to learn spoken language and its written form. Even if they do learn to read, it’s a second language to them, and most do not fully understand what they’re reading. Giving Deaf people a traditional Bible does not adequately meet their need.
2. For more than 70 million people, a sign language is their heart language
It’s the language in which they can fully express themselves, the language with which they feel at home. Sign languages are not a signed version of a spoken language, but they are as complex and unique as familiar spoken languages.
3. There is not one international sign language
There are, in fact, around 400 sign languages. An international sign language was created but is little used.
4. 90% of sign languages have no Scripture at all
And those that do only have part of the Bible available. Only one sign language has the full New Testament (American Sign Language).
5. Only 2% of deaf people have been reached with the Gospel
There are so few Scriptures available in sign languages that most Deaf people have not had the chance to encounter the Gospel. Even in the USA, a predominantly Christian country where the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament are available in American Sign Language, only around 2% of Deaf people are Christians.
Our vision at UBS is to begin making Scripture available for the very first time in unreached Deaf communities and for untranslated sign languages, working closely with churches and key organisations. With adequate funding, progress can be made very quickly, thanks to advances in technology. It will be possible, for instance, to give a sign language community their first Scripture ever – such as a book of the Bible – within a year of a translation project starting.
In many poorer countries, sign language teaching will take place in parallel with the sign language translation project. This will connect some Deaf people to the outside world for the first time, and in some cases, to their own families in which they may have been isolated and ignored for years. Sign language offers them the door to education, including an awareness of health and moral issues, and a sense of identity and personal worth as well as access to the Bible. In fact, sign language in such situations offers the door to a whole new life, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Please pray for this work to bring life and hope to Deaf communities across the world.