As the third phase of the Nippon Foundation-funded research project, the APSL training program has sustained the vision of its last two phases, in aiming to develop the discipline of sign linguistics in the Asia-Pacific region through research and training in order to bring about greater awareness and social mobility to the deaf community. In phase III, there has been focus on offering training support for other Asian universities seeking to establish sign linguistic research and training units at the institutional level.
With the support from The Nippon Foundation via the APSL program and the support from CUHK, Ms. Wijaya became the first deaf scholar in CUHK completing her study in the 2016/17 academic year. This testifies to the success of the APSL program in helping promote social mobility in promising deaf individuals through higher education.
Since its inception in Phase I and launch at the start of Phase III in 2013 at the 3rd International Conference on Sign Linguistics and Deaf Education, the Asian SignBank has proven indispensable to both researchers and for sign linguistic teaching and training as an on-going project of documenting signs from various varieties of Asian-Pacific Sign Languages. It was awarded ‘Innovative Practice of the Zero Project 2018’ for its achievements in supporting communities with disabilities through its accessibility.
Phase III saw the continuation of the sub-degree programs launched in the previous phase for new APSL program trainees, as well as the graduation of its first 2 Cohorts of the Higher-Diploma (HD) programme. APSL HD trainees were required to teach 12 basic sign language classes offered to both post-graduate and Undergraduate CUHK students as part of their 90-Hour practicum requirement of the Higher Diploma. The Nippon Foundation Scholarship for Sign Linguistics in Asia was established in 2015 as a study support system and scholarship in sign linguistics for deaf students from Asia, entirely funded by the Nippon Foundation. In addition, The Nippon Foundation co-funded with CUHK Students with Special Education Needs (SEN), a support system for deaf students enrolled in undergraduate programs at CUHK; this involved sign interpretation (for lectures, college activities and other student activities), note-taking (in class) and off-class academic support & consultation i.e. extra tutorials.
The Myanmarese researchers delivered 8 Sign Language Courses with over 260 hours of sign language teaching at the National Institute of Social Development (NISD), the University of Kelaniya for the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Disability Studies and further short courses and workshops to government officials and both deaf and hearing school children.
Phase III saw six trainees from Myanmar complete their formal training in Sign Language Teaching in 2016/17 – Certificate Program in Sign Language Teaching while concurrently continuing with materials production work supervised by the researchers/trainers of the Resource Development and Production team. They produced a full set of publishable teaching resources with a student handbook and companion dictionary (Book 1) and are working towards completion of the second (Lessons 6-10).
The Sri Lankan researchers completed 200 video clips comprising of dialogues, monologues, exercises and sample sentences based on the content of Sri Lankan Sign Language Student Handbook 1 & 2 for enhancing sign language teaching. They were made readily accessible through a webpage to facilitate the deaf researchers teaching sign language classes to hearing university students of the University of Kelaniya. The Tamil translation of the Sri Lankan Sign Language Student Handbook and Companion Dictionary Book 2 has also been completed. The deaf researchers were also invited to contribute to a chapter on the education situation of Deaf children in Sri Lanka that would be included in a book to be published by Oxford University Press. The paper is titled ‘Free but not fair’: A critical review of access to equal and equitable education to deaf children in Sri Lanka.
At the start of Phase III, the SignBank was launched for public access and it has continued to collect and archive new signs. As of 2017, 4752 signs have been published, with 4289 in the process of verification. The SignBank has also been through testing in order to fine-tune the dictionary production application in which the first draft of ‘Dictionary Book 1’ prepared by the Myanmar team was used to cross-check the output of the auto-generation function. A presentation on the APSL project and the Asian Sign Bank was made on 15 June 2017 at the side-event titled “Leaving no one behind: from digital divide to digital empowerment” during the 10th Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities held in New York. It was nominated and later awarded the ‘Innovative Practice of the Zero Project 2018’.