Introduction / History
Chilean deaf people are located throughout the country of Chile, with most concentrated in the urban areas. Deaf population estimates vary, but the closest estimate is probably around 21 thousand signing deaf people in Chile.
There are 19 schools just for deaf people but approximately 114 that accept deaf students. Interpreters are rare and education beyond secondary school nearly impossible to access for most deaf people. Recently, however, the government has increased their focus on the Chilean deaf community and the first deaf people are now attending university with funding for interpreters by FUNADIS, the main government supported organization that works with people labeled as disabled in Chile. Chilean deaf education has traditionally used oral communication where students learn speech and lip-reading instead of sign language, but in the last couple decades has switched to a bilingual-bicultural approach with the government recognizing Chilean Sign Language (Lengua de Señas Chilena - LSCh) as the language of the Chilean deaf community.
Deaf Chileans typically gather at deaf associations or religious meetings where LSCh. Chile has the oldest national deaf association in South America Asociación de Sordos de Chile (ASOCH), founded in 1926. Currently, there are as many as 60 deaf associations located throughout the country. Although there are no known deaf-led churches, some hearing interpreted services are starting to see increased attendance and interest. Because deaf Chileans are reported to have low Spanish literacy levels and difficulty accessing Spanish Scripture, a translation team was formed in 2008 through Letra Chile to begin translating Scripture into LSCh.
Deaf Chileans indicate that their greatest community development needs include sign language dictionaries, educational sign language literature such as health materials, better and increased availability of interpreters, and better educational and employment opportunities. The Chilean deaf community is eager to be a part of this process and want to partner with others who will work with them toward a more socially just life.
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