Dubai: This woman learnt sign language so she could communicate with a colleague

Rafia admitted that learning sign language was not easy


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Mon 9 Oct 2023, 7:27 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Nov 2023, 4:55 PM

Dubai Municipality (DM) employee Rafia Al Falasi first met the speech-impaired Sumaiah Ibrahim at a conference in the office, five years ago.

When Sumaiah was assigned to her team, Rafia was at a loss as to how to communicate with her. “She was so talkative and had so much to say but I could not understand anything,” recalled Rafia. “It was frustrating for both of us.”

Today, the two of them chat away in sign language, often bursting into peals of laughter and giving high-fives to each other. “Earlier, she was a colleague but today she is like my family,” said Sumaiah, speaking in sign language as Rafia translated.

The two were at the DM stand at the AccessAbilities Expo that kicked off in Dubai today. Joining them was another colleague Fatma, who conversed and interacted with other speech-impaired visitors to the expo.


Rafia admitted that learning sign language was not easy. “My hands would hurt from trying for so long and hard,” she said. “I tried for weeks and I could not understand anything. I was almost on the verge of giving up.”

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She commended Sumaiah for being patient with her and teaching her slowly. “She never lost patience and taught me word by word,” she said. “After a few weeks, I started to pick up the words and it was a relief because we were able to communicate more.”

Their colleague Fatma also pitched in to help Rafia. “Sign language is not very easy,” she said. “The actions change according to the language. So if you are speaking Arabic, there are some different signs as opposed to if you are speaking English. So learning these nuances took time.”

Photo: Fatma
Photo: Fatma

Friendly bonds

Rafia counts Sumaiah as one of her closest friends and the two often hang out with their family. According to her, Sumaiah — who has been a staff of DM for over 27 years — is one of the funniest and kindest persons she has ever known.

She said she has accompanied Sumaiah as a translator to many places. “Be it the bank, the clinic or even travelling, she has taken me with her as the interpreter,” she said. “Last year I travelled with her to Egypt to a conference on how to integrate people of determination into the workplace. Even there, I was her interpreter in many cases. I love it, to be honest. She’s my best friend.”

Held at the Dubai World Trade Center, the AccessAbilities Expo will continue until October 11. Dubai Municipality has built its stand at the exhibition in line with the Dubai Building Code, which specifies that buildings are made accessible for people of determination. The civic body has also launched a programme called Wusool, which checks existing buildings for accessibility.


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