The government in the Democratic Republic of Congo plans to make sign language as the fifth official language, adding to Swahili, Lingala, Kituba and Tshiluba.
It will be formally taught in schools to help people who rely on sign language to access government services more easily.
“It’s a community that for long has been marginalized because of the communication challenges,” DR Congo’s minister for people with disabilities, Irene Esambo, told the BBC.
There have been cases of people dying while seeking treatment because they could not express themselves and others lost court cases because of the difficulty in communicating, according to sign language teacher Nicola Tshilomba.
Sign language experts from different provinces in the country are meeting for the next 30 days to agree on signs to be used so that there is a uniform approach in schools.
The government also plans to launch a sign language dictionary.
DR Congo has an estimated two million people with sight and hearig disabilities, according to the World Health Organization’s 2012 report.