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My experience at the XVIII World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf

Themes: Assistive Technology

8th August 2019

By Paul Ntulila

I was pleasantly surprised to say the least…I had never experienced anything of this nature before. I was thrilled to attend the WVIII World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf from the 23rd to 28th of July this year in Paris, France. My main objective was to meet potential future partners, particularly focusing on East Africa, working to establish and build a network of contacts in the Deaf Community in this region. I was particularly keen to attend the Technology and Accessibility Stream of lectures, to gain insight on the latest information and research being done in this sphere for the Deaf Community.

During the first day of the conference, it was amazing to watch Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, deliver her introduction to the delegates entirely in FSL (French Sign Language). It was evident from her delivery that she has a keen insight into deaf culture and the needs of the deaf community. This was impressive and something I believe left each foreign delegate hoping to have emulated in their respective countries. The atmosphere was electric and the visual take away was breathtaking, a cornucopia of hands of Deaf and hearing delegates signing as one.

I attended the “Signing Avatars: Approaches, Requirements, and Success Factors” presentation which was riveting. It was the closest topic to Assistive Technologies and related to our work at the GDI Hub. After asking people for their views on this, it became evident that this was a hot topic amongst the audience, with some people rejecting the idea completely, and some being more critical but possibly open to the idea. It was interesting to see that some people felt that the avatars were almost robotic in their style and did not feel particularly comfortable with the idea. They would prefer to have a face to face interpreting experience with a real life interpreter. It will be interesting to see if their views on this change in the future with ever evolving technologies coming to the forefront because as much as it can cause debate and raise concerns, it is still useful to know what technologies are out there and how they can be used to help the lives of people with a variety of different needs.

Many of the stands were related to language needs and language access – books and interpreter services for example. The few that were demonstrating technology were more in line with environmental adaptations – such as vibrating alarm clocks, which is existing technology. There were a number of ‘video relay services’ (these provide interpreting services remotely via tablets for meetings or for Deaf people to make phone calls), though by the very nature of sign languages being specific to each country and thus differing from country to country, each video relay service could only be practically used in its country of origin.

The space in which the exhibitor’s were in did feel quite restricted, everyone felt rather crammed into a small area which felt almost claustrophobic, it would not have been an accessible space for wheelchair users due to the limited space. This is an area that I felt could have been more carefully considered to allow for a more comfortable, free flowing experience.

I had a fantastic opportunity to meet many Deaf and sign language delegates from around the world. My networking yielded several new contacts from a multitude of Deaf (and Disabled) organisations, including some Presidents of Associations. With the aims of AT2030 in mind, it was definitely useful to engage with individuals from different backgrounds to potentially make use of their experience and knowledge in the hope that they can help us achieve our goals and ambitions. With the possibility of expanding our project to East Africa, those who have a similar interest of working in that part of the world could help us in working towards our objectives. This work will be something to watch out for in future blogs, so watch this space!

Overall, my trip to WFD was incredibly useful, in the space of five days I learnt a lot, met many interesting people and in doing so, my eyes were opened to the variety of work that is being done out there. This work will no doubt help me with my role at the GDI Hub and help us as an organisation to achieve our goals and potentially succeed in our goal of going to South Korea in 2023. I hope that this will mark the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership.

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