New sign language program supports Georgia’s deaf community

Georgian dancer with the listening disability performs at the Marjanishvili Theatre. Photo by N.Alavidze/, 04 Aug 2015 - 17:36, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia is taking a step into the future by developing an industry-specific sign language database that will better connect the country’s deaf community with the rest of society.

The Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia spent two years with international partners developing an online database that explained professional terms and industry specific jargon for the purpose of expanding Georgia’s national sign language.

The special meeting was held where Georgia’s Education and Science Minister Tamar Sanikidze presented the new website to people with hearing disabilities, parents, local sign language teachers, translators and representatives from non-governmental organisations. She also spoke of the Government’s efforts to better support the disabled community and develop a localised academic sign language.

This initiative aims to increase access to vocational education to people with special needs or disabilities,” said the Minister.

The new online dictionary – a first of its kind in the country – utilised international platform SignWiki ( and offered a vast array of resources to help users learn professional sign language jargon.

For the past six months 2,748 sign language gestures were collected, filmed and uploaded to the website. The platform was mainly created by people with hearing disabilities and sign language experts, noted the Ministry.

The website covered 15 different professions, such as accountant and chef, and used videos that explained industry-related technical terms that until now have not been defined in sign language. 

If certain words do not feature on the website users are encouraged to voice their ideas and help expand the Georgian sign language dictionary. But before this happens the new signs are tested in the local community to determine viability before being uploaded and disseminated.

The screenshot of the Georgian SignWiki. 

The website was the result of two years of collaboration between the Georgian side and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. Together the sides helped develop the Inclusive Education in Vocational Education and Training program in Georgia.

The sides started to lay the foundations to develop vocational education in sign language in Georgia in 2013. In this time 53 people with hearing impairments have received professional education, said the Ministry.

Looking ahead there were plans to develop the database; to collect and upload a variety of signs for school-aged students to help them in their studies.

By launching the website Georgia is taking a step away from the old Russian-influenced sign language system and essentially establishing its own sign language based on the Georgian alphabet. In the past sign language used in Georgia was connected with the Russian alphabet and this made it complicated when describing Georgian words, as the alphabet sounds differed between the languages.

In recent months Georgia has implemented several projects to better support Georgia’s hearing impaired community.

 In November 2014 the website temporary launched, showing hundreds of sign language symbols and gestures. It was the country’s first online sign language dictionary, outlining 500 sign language gestures in Georgian language, and some sections in English and Russian.

Additionally, in December 2014 the Government announced a project that would allow people with hearing, speech and language disabilities to contact the National Emergency Service hotline 112 via special audio and video messaging. The project was due to officially begin in spring 2015.