Inkeri Lahtinen, Project Manager, Desk Officer, Finnish Association of the Deaf
The Deaf People in Albania 2015 study corroborated the linguistic deprivation and the mechanisms that produce such deprivation faced by deaf people at all stages of life.
Children born deaf or prelingually deaf are mainly born to hearing parents. In Albania, deaf children have grown almost languageless, which has had a grave effect on their opportunities for development. As their parents may not know sign language, they struggle to establish a common language with the child. Families may only be able to resort to rudimentary home signs.
The majority of the interviewees, 83%, had attended the Tirana Deaf Institute, while the rest of the interviewees had either attended a school for hearing children or been left without education altogether. At the institute for the deaf, teaching had been based on spoken language, gestures and fingerspelling. The hearing teachers did not know sign language and the children did not understand their spoken language, so there was actually no common language between the pupils and the teacher. The reading test included in the survey also showed that even amongst those deaf people who had attended basic education for 9 years, 97% were still functionally illiterate. On the other hand, at the institute for the deaf, children were able to meet other deaf children for the first time and communicate with them in their free time in their own ways.
Due to weak literacy skills, level of knowledge and a lack of interpreting services, the deaf had no chances of furthering their studies or becoming employed in anything other than very basic jobs. After finishing their education, in most cases the deaf youngsters had returned to their homes in different parts of Albania to a linguistically isolated life. The deaf community had only started to come together and Albanian sign language only began to emerge after ANAD had been activated with FAD's support.
The study thus showed that the interviewees had not learned sign language at school or before starting school, nor had they learned written Albanian in their basic education. They did not have sign language interpreters or bilingual people, who would know sign language, in their living environments. The deaf interviewees were not able to obtain information independently (from books, newspapers or television via subtitles, for example). Even as adults, they still had to rely on the fragmentary and unclear communication conveyed by their family members and were often also financially dependent on them.