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By PAUL KASIMU

Imagine not being able to hear the chirping of birds, music, a baby’s laughter or waves crashing on the beach. Imagine living in a world of silence; where the only thing you hear is your own thoughts.

This is a reality lived everyday by an estimated 360 million people who are affected by disabling hearing loss, according to the World Health Organisation.

While the WHO says five in every 100 people live with hearing loss globally, it is double that in Kenya.

On Sunday, the world marked the inaugural International Day of Sign Languages as part of celebrations for International Week of the Deaf that began on Monday and ends on Sunday.

Under the theme, ‘With Sign Language, Everyone is Included’, the deaf community are advocating equality of sign languages with spoken ones.

They seek to influence governments to fulfil their obligations to those living with hearing impairments, pushing for greater inclusion and raising awareness of the principle of ‘nothing about us, without us’.

People with disabilities are more likely to be excluded from social and economic decisions and opportunities, exposing them to poorer health, lower education achievements and economic participation and higher rates of poverty than those disabilities.

Barriers to services such as health, education, employment and transport, as well as information, are often higher.

A VSO Kenya and Ministry of Education survey shows performance by primary school pupils with hearing impairment differed sharply with those with hearing.

For lack of access to information, suitable learning materials and special education facilities, they are more likely to do poorly in school not because they are unable to learn but do it in an environment that doesn’t take their needs into account.

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework against which governments and businesses can reduce inequalities faced by people with disabilities and promote their health and well-being, education and work and economic growth.

Guided by the SDGs, for instance, Safaricom has embraced a robust diversity and inclusion agenda whose near-term target is to increase the number of staff with disabilities from less than two per cent to five per cent by 2020.
There are 100 people living with various forms of disability employed at the company, four of whom have hearing impairments.

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore likes to use the phrase, ‘Diversity is being invited to the ball; inclusion is being asked to dance’.

Moreover, Safaricom has put in place inclusive human resource policies that have levelled the playing field at work.

One cannot serve people whose needs one does not understand; and we cannot understand their needs if we do not have them among us to articulate their needs.

By employing people with hearing impairments, the company is able to serve deaf customers via SMS and social media and at the shops, ensuring that they get the same level of service as those without disabilities.

So, you see, diversity and inclusion is not just a nice thing to have; it’s the right thing to do. And, for businesses, it is also the smart thing to do.



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