Nigeria recently joined the rest of the world in marking the International Day of the Deaf and Sign Language, an annual event meant to focus on the plight of persons with hearing impairment. DEBORAH OCHENI reports.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed September 23 -24 as the International Day of Sign Languages, to raise public awareness of sign languages and their vital importance to fundamental rights.
This is a symbolic victory for deaf communities worldwide, according to the World Federation of the Deaf and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Deafness is not a disability and the people who are deaf can also contribute to the society and economic growth of the country in a great measure. Deaf people are often seen as disabled or physically challenged people where the only difference is the medium of communication.
Other than using sign-language instead of spoken language, they are just like any other normal human being in terms of talent, capability, and productivity.
The International Day of the Deaf People and Sign Language is, therefore, a strong advocacy tool to educate the general public on issues of concern to persons with hearing challenges.
In 2016, Treat reports that 23.7 per cent of Nigerians have hearing impairments, ranging from total deafness, hearing loss, to other hearing- related conditions in a country of more than 155 million people. This population of people are, however, not fully carried along in the society due to poor engagement of sign language interpreters in Nigeria.
It is against this background that Deaf Women Aloud Initiative (DWAI), an organization that is poised to amplify the voice of the deaf women in Africa whose voices have been drowned by the convention and status-quo organised a Media Training on Deaf Inclusion and Sensitization in Abuja to mark the International Day for the Deaf.
Executive Director, Deaf Women Aloud Initiative, Hellen Beyioku-Alase, said her organisation focuses on raising awareness among the public about sensitive issues that affect deaf women and their children. Issues like sexual and reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), sexual abuse, gender based violence, injustices, stigmatization and discrimination.
She said that the organisation exists to mitigate the exploitation of deaf women, eliminate discrimination, promote social inclusion and enhance secular participation of deaf women in Africa.
It also promote political participation of people with disabilities and rehabilitation of deaf women. In an address delivered at the event, Alase spoke on the inclusion of the deaf in the society.
She noted that the deaf community is the most excluded of all the vulnerable groups in the society because they have difficulties having basic communication with the general hearing population.
Alase said ultimately, they end up being excluded from social, educational, health and employment opportunities. She said their inclusion means valuing the person irrespective of their degree of impairment, reconstructing the institution to remove barriers so they can be valued, participate, interact and develop their potential.
“Someone being included in the society means they are necessary as the environment facilitates their full participation especially when they are vulnerable. “Social Inclusion of vulnerable groups is demonstrated when opportunities abound, there is access to resources, their voice is heard and their rights are upheld.
“Most people feel uncomfortable when meeting a deaf person for the first time. This is very normal. When we communicate with people, we generally don’t have to think about the process. When faced with a deaf person, we are uncertain which rules apply.
“We don’t know where to look, or how fast or loud to speak. When the deaf person gives us a look of confusion, we don’t know how to correct the problem.
“Accept the fact that your initial communications will feel uncomfortable and awkward. As you interact more, you will start to feel more comfortable and know how to make yourself understood. “It’s okay to write to a deaf person.
The deaf person will appreciate your efforts even more if you use a combination of gestures, facial expressions, body language, and written communication. “We often lose patience when someone is having difficulty understanding. Deaf people highly value face-to-face communication and perceive it as an investment, not an imposition.
“Take the time to communicate and connect. If the Deaf person does not understand, she or he will ask questions. If you do not understand the deaf person, stop the conversation and ask for clarification. Never fake understanding or say, Never mind, it’s not important.
“No matter how trivial, share the information. Deaf people listen with their eyes, only talk when you have eye contact with the deaf,” she said. Alase urged journalist to focus on deaf inclu-sive reporting to amplify and connect the voice of deaf people in Nigeria whose voices have been drowned. She emphasised on the need to recognize the rights of deaf persons in Nigeria.
According to Alase, the Nigeria Disability Act and United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) stipulated and mandated all state parties and organisations (government and non-government including Media) across the country to recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities including deaf people.
The convention requires that these persons should have access to professional sign language interpretation in all facets of life and facilitate their accessibility (Art. 9); the reproductive rights (Art. 23); the right to access Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) information and services (Art. 25); and the specific need for empowerment of women with disabilities (Art.6).
Speaking on the theme of the 2021 International week of the Deaf: “We Sign for Human Rights,” Alase urged everyone to unite in the endorsement of the need to secure and promote the human rights of deaf people as well as reaffirming support for their full participation with sign-language for equity and Inclusion.
According to Inclusive Friends Association, the need to mainstream the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing persons in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized.
The inability of many in society to understand the means to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing has given rise a lot of misconcep- tions and barriers that limit their rights based on their different communication modes.
“These barriers range from discrimination and social exclusion to media information, employment, and language identity loss, amongst others.
The United Nations CRPD recognizes and promotes the use of sign languages. It makes clear that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages and obligates states parties (Nigeria) to facilitate the learning of sign language and promote the linguistic identity of the deaf community.
“Therefore, efforts should be made to ensure that information provided to the general public should be made available to deaf in an accessible format and all official or public engagements should provide the services of sign-language interpreters to enable deaf persons to participate effectively,” the group said. A participant at the event,
Martha Aga, admonished reporters to use inclusion methods such as captioning, and use of sign language interpreter to carry them along “During the COVID-19 lockdown, many of us didn’t get the information that we were meant to stay at home and as such some of us were punished for not obeying the stay at home order.
“In addressing us, use friendly terminologies, deaf people are aggressive depending on the situation. Disability comes when you add barrier to impairment, the impairment is not the problem, the society is,” Aga said.