NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 19 – Kenya on Monday joined the rest of the world in marking the International Deaf Awareness week with a special call to the government to facilitate access to education by the deaf.
An official with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Bernard Mwongesa, urged the government to improve the provision of sign language in local schools to facilitate learning for those who are hard of hearing.
He also challenged the government to implement Article 7 (3b) of the Constitution, which states that the State shall promote the development and use of indigenous languages, the Kenyan Sign Language, Braille and other communication formats accessible to people with disabilities.
Mwongesa further noted that there were about 70 million deaf people in the world out of whom 65 percent were from the developing world.
He further claimed that only 10 percent of deaf people in developing worlds had access to education with a paltry one percent being able to transit to higher education facilities.
“Deaf people still face the challenge, just like other persons with disabilities in this country, of accessing education, retention and transition. And we need to open doors to education for persons who are deaf in this country,” he said.
Kenya Association for the Deaf Chairman, Nickson Kakiri, added that there was need for the government to train sign language interpreters. He explained that the lack of interpreters often barred deaf people from learning and participating in forums.
“Statistics indicate that there are only 26 deaf Kenyans with degrees. This is a big shame to us but our teachers don’t have the capacity to educate us. There are too many obstacles in our path that hold us back,” he noted.
Kenya Institute of Social Education Director Kipsang Lagat added that the organisation would push for the equal deployment of teachers who were qualified in sign language. He also urged employers to give equal opportunity to people with disabilities.
“I only wish to challenge everyone, both those in private and public sector, to carry out affirmative action. For example, how many government departments can rise up and say yes, we have persons with disabilities, represented in the world of employment?” he asked.
Through his assistant minister William Cheptumo, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo pledged to make appropriate laws that would ensure the rights of the deaf were safeguarded.
While reading Kilonzo’s speech, Cheptumo called for the need to increase awareness about deafness and also make it easier for the deaf to access information. Cheptumo argued that HIV levels among deaf people were higher than among the general public.
He also urged Kenyans to provide those with disabilities with equal opportunities noting that adequate and effective laws would facilitate the same.
“It is the intention of government to ensure that every Kenyan is given an opportunity in the day to day running of our affairs as a country. Besides disability is not inability; just because you are disabled doesn’t mean you are not able,” he asserted.
Assistant Director Ministry of Gender and Social Development, Peter Musakhi, said there was need to clarify whether or not sign language was an instructive language. He said that the confusion around the issue had been hampering its implementation.
He added that there was also need to demystify disabilities so as to help Kenyans better understand their occurrence.
“Persons with disabilities are often concealed from the public and subjected to physical and psychological abuse due to ignorance, poverty and lack of awareness,” he noted.