DHAKA, Bangladesh

As the world observes the International Day of Sign Languages on Wednesday, Bangladeshi citizen Shafiqul Islam, 40, has shown that the disability cannot come in the way of talent, with a little handholding.

He may not be as famous as brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, but walking in his footsteps, Islam has normalized his speech and hearing disability by producing quality art and graphics.

An international award-winning artist and graphic designer, working with the Bangladesh military over the past 15 years, Islam has not let his disability come in the way of pursuing his big dreams.

At the first glance, looking at him drawing lines and making a piece of art assiduously, one cannot make out that he is speech impaired. Married to a speech-disabled woman, who is also a professional artist and teacher at an art school, his journey has not been so easy.

Afflicted with both speech and hearing impairment since his childhood, Islam failed to continue his studies after school for want of money and disability.

Using sign language, deciphered to Anadolu Agency by Ariful Islam, a rights activist, Islam narrates, that while applying for jobs, he had cleared written examination at 20 places, but used to get rejected at the interview stage.

Frustrated at this treatment, he returned to his village in Narsingdi district near Dhaka, the capital city, and tried his hand in graphic designing. In 2006, he joined the Bangladeshi army after ranking first in the competitive test, exhibiting his caliber.

Experts believe that Islam’s success has shown that with just little support and attention, disabled people can work like normal persons. They have asked the government and private groups to come forward and train challenged people.

According to a 2016 report by the Centre for Disability in Development, there 16 million people with disabilities in Bangladesh, which makes 10% of the country’s population. The government has listed two million physically-challenged people, who receive a monthly stipend of 750 takkas ($8).

Coinciding the International Day of Sign Languages, rights activists have asked for the social recognition of speech-impaired citizens and also providing them institutional facilities to absorb them into the mainstream.

Need for sign language institute

Demanding the setting up of a sign language institute to promote hearing and speech impaired people, experts said it was need of the hour as disabled people and continuously proving themselves in the workplace despite surging challenges. Despite innumerable success stories, just 15% of disabled people currently are absorbed in jobs in the country.

Ariful Islam, who is also a champion for the hearing and speech impaired people in Bangladesh, said a sign language institute will impart skills to disabled people and help them to compete for public and private jobs like normal people.

Furthermore, he said a modified standard sign language book is also necessary to avoid unnecessary differences between home-signs and standard-signs.

Ariful has been working as a sign language interpreter at many institutes, including at the state-run Bangladesh Television and the Bangladesh Prime Minister Office, for over many years. His brother Rofiqul Islam works as an administrative officer at a private farm name Keya Cosmetic Ltd, which has employed 1,000 speech impaired people.

Government setting up specialized schools

Managing Director of the National Foundation for Development of the Disabled Persons (JPUF) under the Ministry of Social Welfare Anisuzzaman, said the government was planning to establish a national sign language institute and provide a standard and government-approved sign language book.

“The Information and Communication Technology Division, is also working on finalizing a government-approved sign language book, and they are collecting available sign language books in the country to finalize a single one,” he said.

The government official said that the JPUF has established some 62 specialized schools for the handicapped people, including for the speech-impaired. He added that 12 more such schools are in the pipeline.

“Some 103 special service and treatment booths are there across the country while some 32 special mobile therapy centers are there to provide immediate health services to the persons with a disability,” he added.

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