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Celebrate International Day of Sign Languages!

By Stefanie Nennstiel


According to the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), there are approximately 72 million deaf people worldwide, and collectively they use more than 300 different sign languages.

As a part of International Week of the Deaf (IWDeaf), the UN General Assembly established September 23rd to mark the date the WFD was founded in 1951, and since its inception it has transformed into a global movement of deaf unity and advocacy to raise awareness for issues deaf people face in their everyday lives and work environments. SAP will join the world celebration as we look forward to further supporting all our differently-abled colleagues, customers, and partners.

While the celebration is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the “International Day of Sign Language”, the official UN name uses the plural (Languages instead of Language) because a common misconception is that there is only one sign language used around the world, but the day celebrates all sign languages.

The wide variety of sign languages around the world creates a challenge for SAP and other organizations. Since sign language is available in every language, All-Hands meetings or other large meetings and events would require signing in every language in order to provide full accessibility. International Sign Language may be used to communicate in an international context, but not everyone knows it, just like not everyone in the world knows English or German. Additionally, sign languages have their own grammar and lexicon, so they differ from each other and from spoken languages.

IWDeaf emphasizes the slogan “nothing about us without us” regarding global collaboration with deaf communities, and collaboration is a key tenant of SAP’s culture as well. Naturally, we reached out to our customers and colleagues in the deaf and hearing-impaired community and asked them how we could support them best. The vast majority said text was more accessible than sign language for numerous reasons.

Instead of focusing on signing, SAP and many other organizations are focusing their development efforts on live captioning and speech-to-text technology. Speech-to-text and live captioning are far more accessible with less variants than sign languages, and many hearing-impaired people prefer text as not everyone can sign or understand even their local sign language.

In addition to encompassing all sign language variations, another advantage to using accessible text instead of signing is that non-native speaking people can understand content better by simply translating the text instead of attempting to translate a sign language they don’t fully understand. Furthermore, in a virtual and knowledge-based environment, it is more efficient and effective to use text with a person who might not fully understand sign. Accessible text in all our communications is how we can be an inclusive company and ensure everyone understands our message, mission, and purpose.

At SAP, we use a variety of technologies to communicate, and we are focused on making those technologies accessible for all our hearing-impaired colleagues. Live captioning, guidelines for inclusive and accessible communications, alternative text for images, subtitling and live transcript service assistance for Global All-Hands events, guidelines for accessible meetings and events, using SAP Media Share for publishing All-Hands recordings which allows automatic subtitles (a feature we used throughout the keynotes at SAPPHIRE), and new guidelines for accessible learning assets are some of the methods we are employing to empower SAP’s differently-abled employees. With these alternatives, we offer an inclusive way to share communications and content at SAP. We can also help our customers and colleagues better understand non-native content.

We want to achieve our goal of becoming the most inclusive software company, and we believe that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all business operations. With differently-abled employees in a variety of roles at SAP we are constantly gaining new insights regarding the best methods for tackling accessibility issues for the deaf community, and in 2019 SAP achieved the top score on the Disability Equality Index® (DEI) and was recognized as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion”.

Interested in learning more about Differently Abled Inclusion at SAP? Check out our external site for Differently Abled People at SAP.

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