Innovative Practice 2019 on Independent Living and Political Participation

Bilingual Classes Supporting Families to Learn Sign Language Together

kinderhände is a small NGO based in Vienna that teaches Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS) to hearing families of children who are deaf, children with deaf parents, and children with hearing impairments. This is done by offering bilingual playgroups and learning materials, and by promoting the use of ÖGS so that families can develop a common language. It also has an online platform for families to use at home, and has developed teacher-training modules to support ÖGS use in schools. Between 2014 and 2018, kinderhände has gone from supporting five children per semester to over 80.

“The first deaf person I met was my son. I didn’t know how to communicate with him. kinderhände was a terrific support – I finally met professionals who answered my questions and eased my worries.”

Eva Meißlmother of a deaf son
About the practice at a glance
Name of Innovative Practice:kinderhände
Organisation:kinderhände
Country
of Implementation
Austria

FACTS & FIGURES

  • Every semester kinderhände offers around 15 courses, with a maximum of eight children per course.
  • In 2017, kinderhände supported 165 children over two semesters in their playgroups, and supported more families through other offers, such as their parent-child café and learning materials.

PROBLEMS TARGETED

In Austria, as in most countries, over 90 per cent of children who are deaf are born into hearing families, which can mean that a common family language is missing.

SOLUTION, INNOVATION, AND IMPACT

kinderhände choir performing.

Using a bilingual team of one person who is deaf and one who can hear, kinderhände offers bilingual classes in German and ÖGS to children aged six months to 14 years and their families. Through bilingual games, songs, and other tools, children and families learn ÖGS together. In 2017, kinderhände supported 165 children and their families over two school semesters. It also offers counselling and information to parents of deaf children who are learning about sign language for the first time. Both parents and children gain confidence from communicating through a shared language.

Although the primary aim of kinderhände is to support communication in families where a child is deaf, there are other benefits as well. Sign language supports language development in children with cochlear implants, children from migrant backgrounds, and children whose parents are deaf. For the past three years, kinderhände has also offered courses to teachers and other staff to promote ÖGS in schools. The organization has its own publishing facility to produce bilingual learning materials such as song books and card games, and it provides an online platform so families can learn at home.

FUNDING, OUTLOOK AND TRANSFERABILITY

Though many of the learning materials were developed with initial funding from the Federal Ministry of Education, Science, and Research, the organization receives no ongoing state funding. Today, it is financed exclusively through donations and the sale of materials and course income.

kinderhände’s services have extended from offering bilingual classes to being a centre for counselling, training, and information about ÖGS for families and schools; and consequently the demand for the organization to open branches in other parts of Austria is growing. The organizational structure, teaching curriculum, and clear philosophy are all ready to be replicated; and as a publisher, kinderhände is able to produce and adapt materials according to demand. When funding is available, the programme could also be implemented in other countries with other sign languages.

Children learning a song with their parents.

FACTSHEET

Download factsheet as accessible word
download