PARIS (Reuters Life!) - As governments rush to roll out mass vaccinations programmes against H1N1 swine flu, one man in western France has launched his own campaign to limit its spread -- use sign language.
Temporarily replacing the French custom of kissing cheeks with simple greetings in sign language would reduce physical contact, said Hubert Chalet, who co-founded Fais-Moi Signe (Give me a Sign), an association for people with impaired hearing.
"What if we substituted cheek-kissing and handshakes with an imaginative and colorful language such as sign language?" Chalet told Reuters by phone from Nantes in western France.
He recommends that television news programmes broadcast the sign language for simple phrases such as "Hello," "Goodbye," "How are you?" and "Are you sick?."
"What I would like to see is a little headline on the midday or evening news on television to go over the phrases," he said.
These phrases could then be used in group situations, he said, for example when an office worker needs to greet a group of colleagues and remove the need for "banal handshakes which are not always enthusiastic."
Chalet, 69, worked as a mediator for Fais-Moi Signe for nine years until the organization shut down last year. He now works for humanitarian group L'Ecoute de la Rue, which broadly translates as "listening out on the streets."
France began its own vaccination campaign on October 20 for hospital staff, and shots will be offered to the general population starting from the first week in November.
There have been 34 H1N1-related deaths in France since the start of the epidemic.
Promoting sign language would also help to bring the hearing and hearing-impaired worlds closer together, Chalet added.
While some may balk at the idea of learning sign language, Chalet suggests that hearing-impaired adults could be usefully employed in schools and firms to help teach the basics.
Chalet has sent his proposal to the local town council but has yet to hear back.
"There are enough specialized institutions ... across France to spread the basic rules of sign language," he said, adding, "I'm allowed to dream, no?." (Reporting by Sophie Taylor, editing by Paul Casciato)