December 17, 2007

University leads study of Ukrainian Sign Language

May 8, 2007 - Edmonton - Under the rule of the former Soviet Union, the education system in Ukraine wasn't allowed to teach sign language to the deaf. An international agreement signed at the University of Alberta today is helping teachers and deaf students in Ukraine to teach and learn signing.

Led by education professor Dr. Debra Russell the Ukrainian Sign Language Project will document Ukrainian Sign Language. It is the first project of its type in the world.

"It's never been researched before," said Russell, who holds the David Peikoff Chair of Deafness Studies at the U of A. "Since sign language was not allowed to be used in the country, there was no formal study of Ukrainian Sign Language. It's really the first linguistic, descriptive study."

"Under Soviet times, the educational method was entirely oral. So, while deaf people have used sign language for centuries, it wasn't allowed to be used in school systems and it wasn't a formal area of study," she added. "And now, as with most signed languages, it's capturing the most interest. Sign language research is one of the growing fields across most countries, and Ukraine is no different in that way."

The data collected by the project will help Ukrainian educators instruct students in Ukrainian Sign Language and develop teaching curriculum, said Russell. It will also help researchers better understand American Sign Language, she added.

Dr. Judy Lupart, a U of A educational psychology professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Special Education, said the agreement expands the range of collaboration between Drahomanov National Pedagogical University and the U of A.

Viktor Andrushchenko, rector of Drahomanov National Pedagogical University, noted that the agreement builds upon previous collaboration. He's particularly pleased with the agreement's specific focus.

"Another of these important areas is education of children with special needs, and the training of a new generation of teacher susceptible to new, technical innovations, and able to adapt to the new realities of life," he said.

According to U of A Dean of Education Dr. Fern Snart, the MOU "reflects beautifully the faculty's goals for international initiatives within our academic plan."

"It's well understood, but I think it bears repeating, that when we collaborate in this fashion, it enriches both sides of the collaboration," she said.

"I also know that when talented, enthusiastic people work together, there are wonderful surprises in terms of achievements that have not yet been planned or dreamed. And I hope some of those surprises will begin to happen as early as today."

Dr. George Richardson, the Faculty of Education associate dean (international initiatives), said the agreement is a great place "to begin looking at the range of future opportunities."

"We look forward to a long and very profitable collaboration."

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