NAT 231009 The AccessAbility Expo CE016-1696951526999
Sumaya Ebrahim Ali Mohamed Al Suwaidi (left) and Rafia Ali Mohammed Matar Al Falasi, who learned sign language, at AccessAbilities Expo in Dubai recently Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: A Dubai Municipality employee learnt sign language in order to communicate with her speech-impaired colleague. Rafia Al Falasi said her decision to learn the sign language has changed her life forever.

The Emirati woman said she came across Sumaya Ebrahim Ali Mohamed Al Suwaidi – a senior support officer who has speech impairment – when the latter was placed in her department.

“She loved to express herself and had so much to converse – but she could not speak. I decided then that I needed to learn the sign language to ease the communication between us,” Rafia said.

Gulf News caught up with the duo at the fifth edition of AccessAbilities Expo being held at the Dubai World Trade Centre until October 11. The two could be seen conversing in sign language. Another Dubai Municipality colleague, Fatma, was assisting visitors with speech impairment in sign language.

'It felt great'

Rafia admitted that learning sign language was not easy.

“My hands would hurt with all the conversations and then one day the pain just vanished. It felt like a great accomplishment learning a different kind of language and being able to converse seamlessly with my colleague.”

She added that Sumaya patiently taught her the language. “She literally showed me word by word. After a few weeks I started learning the language,” Rafia said.

Rafia added her other colleague Fatma also pitched in to help her.

“Sign language also varies from language to language. For example, Arabic, English are all different. For example there are actions which oppose English and Arabic.”

Rafia said she and Sumayaget along wellout of office as well. “A special bond has been created between us. She takes me with her whenever she needs a translator. We have also become good friends.”

She added: “Learning the sign language has opened doors. I have reached out to more and more speech impaired people through sign language. Wherever I go when I see a person with speech impairment struggling to speak, I pitch in to help. It feels great. It has been a great experience for me so far.”