Deaf Perspectives on the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030: Implications for the Saudi Deaf community and how it can be used to empower the Deaf

Published: Jul 20th, 2018

The Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on April 25, 2016. It is a long-term plan for social, economic and educational reforms for the country. He has explicitly pinpointed the year 2030 as the time when the reforms would be finished and the plan’s goals be attained. Since the Deaf community will more than likely be affected by these planned reforms, they will be part of this history in action. New chapters will be written in the history of the Saudi Deaf. But how will they be written? In other words, what are the implications of the Vision 2030 for the Saudi Deaf community? How can the Deaf community in Saudi Arabia take advantage of the Vision 2030 and how can they be empowered by it?

The main goals of the reform plan include reducing the country’s dependence on oil and increasing non-oil trade between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, diversifying the country’s economy and developing national public services in health, infrastructure, recreation and tourism, which the Deaf community of the country can benefit from. The prince has laid out three main pillars, or themes, for the plan: a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. These themes cover diverse areas like urbanism, culture, entertainment, employment, women in the workforce, international competitiveness, foreign investment, the private sector, government effectiveness, and family savings and income, all of which have potential effect on the Saudi Deaf community. The plan is a roadmap for the development of Saudi Arabia and for achieving its economic objectives over the next 15 years (now 12 years as of 2018).

Deaf people have been historically neglected or sidelined. It is only relatively recently that the Saudi Deaf community has been working to empower itself and get widespread recognition in Saudi society and government. The Vision 2030 covers the economy, education and society so it will have great influence on the Saudi Deaf community. The plan claims to desire happiness and fulfillment of citizens so that all would enjoy a better quality of life. It is the Deaf community’s hope that this applies to them as well as the hearing citizens of Saudi Arabia, because the Saudi Deaf are likewise citizens of the kingdom. If the plan promises happiness, a better quality of life and fulfillment for all citizens, then the Deaf should benefit from that promise.

As part of the theme of creating a vibrant society, the Saudi government has promised to “launch and provide the necessary support for ‘Daem’, a national program to enhance the quality of cultural activities and entertainment.” Although the focus of Daem appears to be on hobbies, leisure activities and amateur sport clubs, it could be used to cover captioning and interpreting, which are absolutely essential for the Deaf community’s participation in national activities and pastimes. The prince wants everyone to appreciate culture and entertainment, and ‘everyone’ includes the Deaf. Deaf organizations, both existing and future, will need to keep the government aware of their needs. Having a vibrant society means having a strong and productive society through strengthening families and education. Part of this is irtiqaa, a program that “will measure how effectively schools are engaging parents in their children’s education.” This would include parent-led boards in schools, having discussion forums, training teachers to be more aware of the importance of communicating with parents about their children’s education in schools and at home. The last part sounds similar to, if not the same as, the American practice of the IEP (Individualized Education Program), which defines the individualized objectives of a child who has a disability and/or requires specialized accommodation, and is a team effort by teachers, parents, their children, counselors, advisers and school staff. The IEP has been instrumental for helping American Deaf children achieve educational goals more easily than if there is no IEP in existence because without having individual educational plans that have their individual needs in mind, they can fall behind in their academic achievement and eventually be not able to succeed as much in later life as they could want. It is too common for teachers to not be aware of Deaf needs and have these needs be neglected.

The Vision 2030 says that the skills and competencies of children is necessary for a thriving economy so the government will invest in the education and training of young men and women for the jobs of the future. Presumably, that would include Deaf children in the kingdom, or at least it should include them. The Deaf community must make sure that they are indeed included. Certainly, if Deaf entrepreneurship is to be encouraged and as much lauded as it is in the developed nations, Deaf entrepreneurs need to be part of the SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) cited in the Vision 2030. Furthermore, under the heading of providing equal opportunities, the plan promises that the Saudi “economy will provide opportunities for everyone – men and women, young and old – so they may contribute to the best of their abilities.” It is fortunate that under the plan, the government “will also enable those of our people with disabilities to receive the education and job opportunities that will ensure their independence and integration as effective members of society. They will be provided with all the facilities and tools required to put them on the path to commercial success.” This explicit promise to people with disabilities is especially reassuring for the Saudi Deaf as well as gives hope that Saudi Arabia will have the kind of accessibility for the Deaf that is similar or on par with the developed nations.

Later in the announced plan, the crown prince cites the geographic location of the Arabian Peninsula as extremely useful for making Saudi Arabia an important trade hub between Africa, Asia and Europe. Certainly, it would mean more international visibility for the Saudi Deaf community because greater trade comes hand in hand with greater contact with other Deaf communities in the world. The plan further promises transparency and accountability in finances and government as well as “zero tolerance for all levels of corruption, whether administrative or financial.” Corruption and mismanagement of funds have been a problem in Deaf schools, organizations and among interpreters. To date, all of the schools, organizations and programs for the Deaf are managed and supervised by hearing people, most of whom have little to no psychological or emotional investment in the improvement of Deaf people. This may sound like an exaggeration but none of them has a Deaf person in a high-status position. This fact has been detrimental to Deaf accessibility and independence. To be sure, there are a few who are sincerely concerned with the wellbeing and improvement of the Deaf, but unfortunately, they are the exception rather than the rule. Also, to date, Saudi Arabia does not have a national standard for sign language interpreters, nor does it have a quality and licensing test for interpreters, so the quality of interpreting varies wildly, and some people had themselves hired as interpreters when they had no qualification at all in either the Saudi Sign Language. Furthermore, they tend to take the role of leaders rather than service providers for the Deaf, which is considered grossly inappropriate in the American Deaf community. This is a major barrier to Deaf accessibility and independence in the kingdom.

According to the Vision 2030, the Saudi government is committed to making public spending much more efficient and effective, and limit waste. The plan calls this the ‘Qawam’ program in reference to a “Quranic verse that calls for moderation in spending between excess and parsimony.” The goal of the Qawam program includes effective and efficient spending controls. In the Saudi Deaf perspective, this ties back to the above discussion on corruption and mismanagement of funds for Deaf schools, organizations and interpreters. If financing is streamlined and made transparent, these institutions of the Deaf community would become much more helpful and instrumental in improving the Deaf position in society as well as accessibility in the kingdom. As they are, schools are too often underfunded while their principals and/or board members demonstrably reap the physical benefits, blatantly showing their corruption while being justifiably confident that they wouldn’t be punished for this.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in giving the Vision 2030, has promised responsibility to Saudi society, which apparently includes encouraging endowments, philanthropy and the establishment of non-profit organizations. The Deaf community often relies on such endowments and non-profit organizations to get a jumpstart in achieving independence in a society that views deafness as a disadvantage.

In announcing the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 and giving details on that, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has set in motion a series of long-term reforms that could potentially change the course of history for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As part of that kingdom, the Saudi Deaf community is in a position to potentially benefit from the reforms and thereby attain a level of accessibility and independence that developed nations like the United States and West Europe have achieved for their Deaf communities. The Vision 2030 has implications and potential advantages for the Saudi Deaf community. If the reforms actually come out the way that the crown prince envision for Saudi Arabia, then by the year 2030, all this would be considered an essential part of the Saudi Deaf history.

Bader AlomaryBader Alomary is a Deaf individual from Saudi Arabia. After completing his schooling at a school for the Deaf in Saudi Arabia, he graduated from Gallaudet University with his bachelors and masters in Deaf Education and Sign Language Education. He is currently a doctoral student at Lamar University, specialising in Deaf Education and Deaf Studies.

 

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