The Plight of Deaf Kenyans
and the opportunities to right the wrongs of Kenya's largest marginalized community
Population: Estimated 1 Million – WHO estimates 15% of the world population have disabilities. This estimates encompasses persons who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Hard of Hearing, a socio-linguistic cultural minority who use Kenyan Sign Language in their communications. Mostly these individuals are in urban areas but many remain hidden in their homes due to stigma and shame associated with this disability. Statistically, however there is still a large number of persons with hearing loss who go about life without identifying themselves with the larger Deaf community nor use Kenyan Sign Language in their every day life. There is a great need to have the correct number of persons who are Deaf for proper service delivery and national planning.
Historically, the Deaf people in Kenya have been left out of mainstream societal development due to their language and culture. This explains the marginalization of this minority group in the earlier history of Kenya. Missionaries, educationists and foreign volunteers saw this and working with the locals established the first schools for the Deaf in the late 1950's and early 1960's in Western, Central and Coastal regions of the country. Deaf Kenyans use Kenyan Sign Language which had it's 'formal' existence traced to the schools of the Deaf. Like elsewhere in the world, the hearing world (speaking communities) have held negative attitudes towards the deaf persons, deafness and hearing loss. Many people believed and still do that the Deaf cannot be taught, are dumb, retarded or incapable of carrying out daily activities such as reading, cooking, taking care of children or having a job or a family. Thus many of the parents on discovery that they have a Deaf child they will often go into denial, hide the child and seek medical intervention to correct the deafness or hearing loss. This often leads to frustration both for the parents and the child who will miss out on language acquisition that normally happens at this age, gets late admission into school etc Society also contributes to further marginalize the Deaf in Kenya through their lack of awareness on Deafness. Our schools are created to be Audist (hearing superior) in nature, when you look at the languages taught they emphasize on writing, listening (hearing), reading (speaking) which practically locks out the Deaf child from being part of the education system where not all teachers in the schools for the Deaf comprehending or having training in Kenyan Sign Language.
Looking forward how do we move on? There are strides we have made as a nation that puts us ahead of many nations in Sub Sahara Africa and indeed among the global community. Kenya ratified the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities in May 2005, followed by enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Act 2005 and most recently the Constitution of Kenya 2010 have reaffirmed Kenyans commitment to form a government based on the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law.
With these adoptions and enactments are to naught if these laws are not implemented, enforced or exercised. This memorandum takes a look on how the Jubilee administration can and should move forward in empowering the Deaf community in Kenya to enjoy their rights, have a more productive quality life away from the shackles of oppression, stigma, discrimination and violations that have dominated their lives for hundreds of years.Here is how.....
Our Constitution recognizes Kenyan Sign Language a national language at par with Kiswahili and English due to its national and cohesive attributes. Kenyan Sign Language is one of the languages of parliament and by extension the senate and county assemblies. The constitution is also very clear on the rights of Deaf Kenyans to use Kenyan Sign Language in every day life, to enjoy Deaf culture and to be free from discrimination as a linguistic minority. Articles 7 (3b); 27(4); 35 (1b); 44(1); 54 (1d); 56 (d); 120 (1)
- Enactment of a Kenyan Sign Language Act – a legislation that would define the issues of deafness covering the early intervention for children, care and treatment of hearing loss; establishing a Kenyan Sign Language Institute to research, document and provide guidance on Interpreters training, employment and regulation.
- Recognize, promote, accept and facilitate the use of Kenyan Sign Language - the more the citizens see this happen, families and communities will follow the lead that the government has taken to use the language in public and thus liberate the Deaf Kenyans form the stigma they so often experience.
- Facilitate the research, development and learning of Kenyan Sign Language and the promote the linguistic identity of the Deaf community – the language currently is under-researched, documentation has been scanty with little happening in higher institutions of learning. Establishment of a Kenyan Sign Language institute would facilitate the research and learning of the language, history and culture of the Deaf Kenyans. The institute would ensure that teachers for the Deaf, interpreters and linguists are trained and deployed to the various needy institutions that require their services.
- Provide information intended for the general public in Kenyan Sign Language this will ensure all Deaf Kenyans can seek, receive and impart information on an equal basis with others. With the employment of professional interpreters this will be achieved.
- Urging and encouraging the private entities that provide services to the general public to provide information and services in Kenyan Sign Language – hospitals, schools, universities, banks, parastatals, government agencies, the police, courts etc will have provision to provide services in the language by employing Deaf Kenyans or interpreters for accessibility of their services.
- Encourage the mass media to make their services accessible in Kenyan Sign Language – a lot of communication and information from government is passed by the media to the general mostly in the national languages of Kenya. This should be the same for Kenyan Sign Language, have Interpreters work with the Presidential Press Office, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and Office responsible for National Events. The National Assembly through the Research office has done the same in collaboration with KBC.
- Employment – affirmative action in the public service to employ qualified Deaf Kenyans to work within the public service sector.
Implementation of the above will result in the following:-
- Kenyan people will change their attitudes towards Kenyan Sign Language and the Deaf community, Deaf culture and deafness.
- Deaf people will have more or better access to information, education, political and socioeconomic activities or interactions.
- Deaf people will gain more confidence in the learning process, self-expression, in communicating with hearing people and in enjoying their rights.
- Improved quality of life for Deaf Kenyans through employment opportunities for Deaf individuals.