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Mastering sign language can be interesting, enjoyable and very useful

Boris Bandev on sign language interpreting and challenges in the lives of deaf people in Bulgaria

Photo: Facebook/ Stray Sheep

There are 120,000 deaf people in Bulgaria, according to unofficial data. Many of them do not want to learn sign language, although it is useful to them. There is no translation in schools for deaf children... All these are objective facts that become a driving motive for Boris Bandev, born into a family of deaf people with the good fortune to have unimpaired hearing. He takes on the mission to make life easier for at least some of those people whose voice the state cannot hear.

Together with his friend Alexander Kalinov, Boris founded a company whose aim is to introduce sign language to a wider range of people. Among the clients they work with are municipalities, banking institutions and private companies. Boris and Alexander offered their services to the Bulgarian National Radio as well and thus the video series "News in sign language" was born. It is carried out together with the Academy for Deaf Children "Andy and Aya" founded by Darinka Borisova with deaf sign interpreter Krasimirka Zhecheva.

"Imagine that you are a person who is interested in the news and what's going on in the world and, when you put on TV or something online, the translation is in a 5 x 5 cm square and you can barely read it and understand it. That's the reality, that if a deaf person wants to watch news in sign language has to make efforts, to get closer. I see this in my father who is deaf and very often he even gets up from the couch and goes to the TV so he can see it. In addition, very often journalists speak very quickly and the sign language interpreter himself lags behind, which affects the quality of the translation. We talked to Ivo Todorov (Director of Digital Programmes at BNR) about this very problem and he accepted the idea very well. He said - 'guys, let's do this video column' - and it happened spontaneously, but it is very necessary for deaf people who can enjoy our innovative format in which the interpreter is in the centre of the frame and is a kind of news presenter."

A deaf person in Bulgaria can be very difficult to serve in simple situations for most people, such as taking out a loan, getting their paperwork in order, etc. For this reason Boris started thinking of new ways to make learning sign language an interesting and enjoyable activity for a wider range of people:  "We communicate with body language and our mission is to spread this language and show how important it is in our everyday communication with people who are a little bit different from us". That's why the two friends have uploaded videos on their platform in which they hold conversations on various topics using only their hands. Even a few Bulgarian songs have been translated into sign language.

Boris Bandev
Having turned his work into a vocation long ago, Boris has witnessed a lack of will from institutions regarding making sign language compulsory for education in specialized schools for deaf children:

"The issue is very sensitive because of the fact that due to lack of clear regulation, clear laws and clear curriculum, the way things are set up, in schools there is no emphasis on sign language. It is logical that when we hear about a deaf person, we link it to sign language, but the irony is that sign language is not taught in schools en masse. This is not the fault of teachers or principals, but because of the lack of adequate regulation or law requiring schools to do so. That is why very often children leave there without being able to speak and communicate adequately, nor to master sign language, which is ridiculous," explains Bundev and gives the example of a conversation with a friend of his who has two children studying in such a school:

Boris and Alexander
"One is in the 4-5th grade, the other is in the 10th grade, and she tells me that these things were not taught in school once because no one explained them in sign language. For example, if you or a friend of yours has a deaf child, the doctors recommend putting a hearing aid on them. I understand this solution, but it is a very common myth that a hearing aid can magically solve all your problems. It turns out the opposite - it makes a child's isolation much worse. I say this also from my personal experience - language can do a lot to help a child socialize and feel better around both deaf and hearing children."

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are around 180 sign language interpreters in the country, but only around 20 of them are active. Their number against the background of 120,000 people is extremely insufficient, as is that of the 1,000 people trained in Boris and Alexander's courses over the last three years. However, Bandev is optimistic that things are going in the right direction and in the next five years the situation will change.

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Photos: Facebook/Stray Sheep, BNR, Facebook/Boris Bandev

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