Deaf Sri Lankans protest for equal rights

July 29, 2011 (LBO) – Hundreds of deaf Sri Lankans took to the streets on Friday demanding equal rights and more people to translate sign language so they can have better access to medical and other services. The peaceful march in Colombo ended after the organisers were allowed to walk to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s official “Temple Trees” residence with a petition detailing their grievances.

Protesters carried banners reading “Deaf, not dumb”, “More sign language on TV” and “Deaf won’t take no.”

“We don’t have equal rights like access to jobs,” said Sarath Kumara, president of the Sri Lanka Central Federation of the Deaf.

Home to 20 million people, some 70,000 have been diagnosed as suffering from hearing problems, said Kumara, adding the community was also struggling with a shortage of sign-language translators.

The protest organisers said there were only a few qualified sign language translators, which made it difficult for deaf people to communicate when they seek medical treatment, pay utility bills and transact with banks.

Protestors urged the government to popularise sign language to make it easier for deaf people to have better access to schools, jobs and