In Kenya’s 2010 constitution Section 1 (a) of Article 54 requires that persons with disabilities be addressed and referred to in a manner that is not demeaning to them, an entitlement that advocates for non –discrimination acts of any kind to those living with disability.
Further, the same 2010 constitution of Kenya ensures that apart from being treated with dignity and respect, the right to education in any institution and facilities for people with disabilities, the right to access information correctly and also to access material and devices suitable for people with disability, another important right granted to them is the right to use sign language and Braille as appropriate means of communication.
The big question is; are Kenyans ready to learn sign language? How many government learning institutions are providing such knowledge to Kenyans? Is sign language taught in schools and if not, is the Ministry of Education ready to introduce it into the Competency Based Curriculum?
According to the Kenya National Population Census done in 2019, Kenya had 153,381 Deaf people aged above 5 and at most (129,518) living in rural areas while 23,843 living in the urban areas. More shocking information is that fewer deaf people are accessing special education while the majority of them find it difficult to communicate with close family members.
Naomi Mandela, a former nominated Member of the County Assembly of Vihiga and in charge of matters disability, says that while the world is embracing Deaf awareness weeks, and Kenya’s constitution addressing disability rights while recognizing sign language as a “language” it is yet to be implemented in learning institutions.
She further suggests that the government should ensure that sign language is taught from lower classes and not high schools.
Judith Olesha, a deaf champion, asserts that the Deaf community in Vihiga is finding it hard to access basic needs because of communication barriers. The lack of Otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists) in the County’s Referral hospitals is a huge burden that they have to carry as they are forced to travel far to access such important services.
Nicolas Jumba, a health worker and sign language interpreter at Vihiga Referral hospital in Mbale, Vihiga notes that most sick patients living with impaired hearing problems find it difficult to get the right treatment and more so spend a lot of time trying to explain their ailments to health workers who do not know sign language.
Deaf Awareness Week aims to bring to light the barriers and challenges faced by the Deaf in the society.