The inaugural International Day of Sign Languages, which was marked on Sunday with the theme, ‘With Sign Language Everyone is Included’, kicked off the annual International Deaf Awareness Week, aimed at creating awareness about hearing impairment and deaf people.
In the developed world, governments and societies try to accommodate and support the deaf so that they are not left behind. In Africa it’s the opposite — discrimination and placing unnecessary barriers in their way.
There are many college and university scholarships for deaf students in developed countries but, in Kenya, there is not a single programme while even bursaries are hard to come by.
Schools and education are the only two critical areas that can promote inclusion of the deaf and other persons with disabilities.
However, most teachers in schools for the deaf are not fluent in sign language and, for those who are, it’s likely that they are poor receptors of signed stories.
Therefore, the very people who should reduce the barriers are the barriers themselves!
Majority of the teachers posted by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to schools for the deaf have little or no knowledge of sign language.
Probably, there is no one at the TSC fluent enough to vet them. Majority of deaf students hence perform poorly in national examinations, denying them an opportunity to pursue higher education.
Notably, majority of the students have limited vocabulary as many teachers spend most of the early years learning sign language from their students instead of the reverse.
The few deaf people who join university face more challenges as the institutions are mainly meant for hearing students.
Even with disability offices, there are no staff who can sign, or they do not accommodate deaf students.
Universities also don’t have standby interpreters. Should a deaf person seek services such as admission, they are forced to either learn without an interpreter or hire one, which is expensive.
The deaf lead solitary lives as their families and society don’t know sign language. Many migrate to the city where there is a large population of deaf people.
The Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) should be taught in all schools as happens in some countries. That way, everybody can communicate with the deaf and they would be included in the daily activities of the community.
The TSC should deploy KSL-fluent teachers to schools for the deaf as the Education ministry provide the requisite resources.
Also, the government can make education free for the deaf up to university level. Alternatively, the State, private sector and NGOs can give full scholarships to deaf students in schools and colleges.
Qualified educated deaf people would be able to take up jobs in both public and private sectors.
Peter M. Kabethi, special needs education teacher and deaf education advocate, Nyeri.