Sri Lanka's deaf march for equal rights, jobs

July 29, 2011 - 11:29 AM
Sri Lanka Deaf Rights

Deaf Sri Lankans, from left, Anil Jayawardena, Fazal Haq, and Issath Nihal and Sarath Kumara, right, communicate in sign language, as Ajith Pushpakumar prepares to drive a bike without owning a driver's license, at the Central Federation of the Deaf on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, July 29, 2011. About 1,000 deaf Sri Lankans took to the streets of capital Colombo on Friday to demand equal rights, social recognition and more sign language translators, with an official saying only about four are currently qualified. They also demanded that driver's license be granted to them. (AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — About 1,000 deaf Sri Lankans took to the streets of capital Colombo on Friday to demand equal rights, social recognition and more sign language translators, with an official saying only about four are currently qualified.

The protesters from the Sri Lanka Central Federation of the Deaf held a rally opposite Colombo's main railroad station to highlight their plight in a country still struggling to return to normalcy after a 25-year brutal civil war that ended in 2009.

The federation's Vice President Anil Jayawardena said the community of 73,843 people, according to a 2001 survey, is facing hardships in daily life because sign language is not properly recognized.

"As a result, we face severe difficulties when we go to a bank, courts or to get medical treatment," Jayawardena told The Associated Press, speaking through a translator.

He said the situation is further aggravated because of the shortage of qualified sign language translators.

"There are only three or four such translators and besides, no meaningful steps have been taken to help the deaf people carry out their work in the society," he said.

Sri Lanka has a population of 20 million.

He urged the government to take effective measures to see that "sign language is given proper place and ensure the deaf people equal access to education, jobs and health care."

The protesters displayed a huge banner reading "Ensure rights of deaf community" and carried placards with words "Deaf won't take no, Honk 4 Deaf" and "No more negative attitude."