Two official languages coexist in Korea: Korean and Korean sign language. Nevertheless, sign language has been excluded in many parts of the society, leaving the deaf with little opportunity for communication. Smart sign language broadcasting services only officially started in 2019, and not until September 2020 did all main news programs provide sign language translations.
Handspeak, a social venture, aims to provide the hearing-impaired and unimpaired a chance to better understand and communicate with each other overcoming communication barriers. It was founded 11 years ago by CEO Jung Jung-yoon and three deaf artists with the ambition to integrate sign language into Korean culture and life.
Members of Handspeak express their everyday lives and dreams through various activities such as dance, rap, theater, and musical. The activities of Handspeak emerged as an opportunity for those who suffered from societal alienation to actively put themselves out into the world through art.
“While spending 10 years with my deaf friends, I have been thinking about how to share emotions more deeply with them,” Jung said. “I went to the bookstore to learn more about sign language, but most of the books were encyclopedic, making the sign language look more difficult than it is.”
For those with hearing impairments, reality is very different in comparison to those without. Much of the world’s opportunity is but a distant dream for those with hearing impairments. To bridge this gap between dreams and reality, Handspeak is actively expanding online and offline sign language content via its platform.
In recognition of these achievements, Handspeak was invited to Festival Clin d’Oeil, an international sign language arts festival that showcases theater, dance, cinema, visual art and street performances.
“When I entered college as a dance major, I turned out to be the only deaf person in the dance department,” Kim Ji-yeon, a founding member of Handspeak and the world’s one and only handy rapper said. “The school budget was limited, so it could not support text or sign language interpretation. I couldn't understand a word in the two-hour class, and even if I asked my professor or my friends for help, they would always say ‘work harder.’ I hope for more consideration in this society so that there are no deaf people feeling deprived or lost due to any kind of audism.”
Handspeak is presently undergoing art collaborations with other artists in various fields, such as writers, baristas, and actors. They also upload videos on YouTube, covering famous artists’ songs in sign language. Jung presented Handspeak’s slogan as ‘Common-Language,’ which maintains the desire for sign language to become a daily part of public life.
Through their pioneering effort, Handspeak has also received a grand award at the Nanum Theater Festival with their sign language musical, ‘Fine Dust.’ Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sign language musical ‘Disappearing People’ was performed online, which received around ten thousand views and over five thousand likes.
“Sign language play is regarded as a special genre to the public, but that is the opposite of what we want,” said Park Kyung-shik, the playwright of Fine Dust and director of Disappearing People. “We keep thinking that no special meaning is given to the use of sign language, because the more we regard it as something odd or special, the harder it becomes for both the hearing- impaired and the unimpaired to work together.”
Park sees sign language and its cultural integration beyond the means of just communication. He believes that the recognition and integration are powerful messages about equality and human rights.
“We dream that our activities will establish a platform for a deeper understanding of the hearing- impaired,” Jung said. “I hope that people who have stepped on that podium will become interested in sign language, and gradually pitch in to support the deaf to take a part in the culture and art world and acknowledge their infinite possibilities.”