By Mpho Shelile
MASERU – The National Association of the Deaf Lesotho (NADL), held a press conference with the purpose of celebrating deaf awareness week which is celebrated globally to help break down communication barriers and encourage better communication between deaf and hearing individuals.
International week of the Deaf is the only week in a year that seems highly concerted global in advocacy to raise awareness about the Deaf Community on different levels. “It is about gathering together, becoming united, and showing a united front with the rest of the world. It also strives to promote the human rights of deaf people and highlight topics that merit attention, with the aim to call for unity from the rest of the world through consistent, coordinated and widespread mobilization to ensure that the campaigns are visible through sufficient media coverage”, stated Mrs Likopo Mokhoromeng.
The overall objective of the NDAL is to advocate and protect deaf people’s human rights, which differ slightly from the rights of the ordinary. They include but are not limited to: access to an interpreter and inclusion within various programs, “ One important aspect for every deaf person out there is for sign language to be recognized and be included as another official language in Lesotho, especially to family members of the deaf, friends and service providers”, she stated.
NADL is not an exception, she aligns herself with persons with disability equity act of 2021 in ensuring that the deaf human rights are fully protected and access to justice is provided. So to announce this year’s theme Likopo stated that it will be ‘a world where deaf people everywhere can sign anywhere’, and the sub themes are as follows: ‘declaration of the rights of the deaf child, building capacity across the globe, realizing ‘nothing without us’, putting deaf people on the agenda, achieving sign language rights for all and building inclusive deaf communities.
In her speech Likopo pointed out that when they celebrate the important deaf week across the globe, it is imperative to acknowledge that 60 and more UN member states have not established national association of the deaf and this means that millions of deaf people continue to lack access to human rights however Lesotho on the other hand has established one putting it on the lead and for that we are proud. It is the right step on a journey which lies ahead of us, we plead with the development partners, private institutes, civil society organizations and the general public to assist in making sure that sign language becomes an official language”, she said.
The provision of sign language interpreters, would be the best accommodation for deaf persons which needs to be considered. “Hopefully before the end of this year NADL in collaboration with social cluster committee of parliament of Lesotho will see to it that the Lesotho sign language bill as advocacy on adoption of Lesotho sign language as an official language in progress, is achieved. That way NADL will have achieved its agenda in accordance with this year’s theme which says; ‘a world where deaf people everywhere can sign anywhere”, she concluded.
Then again what life is like for the deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) has changed significantly in the past half-century. Starting with how much Policies change and new technologies adopted to provide solutions for many. However, there are still some hurdles which have remained the same. This brings us to why communities are important to a deaf person, inclusion within the community means that a deaf person will be able to become an active member of the community, engage in some economic activities and gain access to services within the community. But that is not what our communities do, they would rather exclude them.
“Imagine any service within the community, be it: going to church, going to the market place, at hospitals, schools, police stations even weddings and birthdays. Deaf people also need to get services from these entities or participate in social gatherings”, stated Mr. Lets’ekha Ntlale NADL’s chairperson.
However, a great number of challenges still persist, the first and fundamental one is lack of awareness. Sometimes people just lacking knowledge, they don’t know how to act, or where to get sign language interpreters. There are many ways to communicate with a deaf person and without one knowing some of these options, they might not be able to fully interact with a deaf person. The second one being; negative social attitudes, stereotypes and prejudice which are hurtful to deaf people. Cultural beliefs can be deep rooted in myths and misconceptions about deaf people, seeing deafness for instance as a curse. That is wrong but we are slowly evolving from that.
Most deaf children are born out of hearing families, and some parents might still be in denial that their children cannot hear, consequently seeking support services late in the life for that child. Deaf children are often delayed in acquiring and developing their language because they don’t get early access to sign language. Children who live in poverty or in rural areas can’t afford or get access to technology such as hearing aids, while some are deaf due to illness and it becomes hard for parents to understand and accept that their child cannot hear nor talk clearly. “I was not born this way but got sick then lost my speech and became partially deaf”, Mrs. Bongiwe Buzi indicated.
Also lack of proper sign language which is a universal signing vocabulary may lead a deaf person to somehow feel excluded either by family members or by the community because sign language is the first language understood by the deaf community. As per different levels of understanding, written language does not convey information and can perpetuate misinformation leading to misguided actions Stigma and discrimination as a barrier, “not being able to further your studies because there are no interpreters in college is one of the most challenging barriers for us, because most of us depend on lip reading to hear what other people are saying so one can only imagine how difficult it must be”, Ntlale emphasized.
Helen Adams Keller who was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer, once said, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” Yes, deafness cuts one from people, but it shouldn’t, we need to be aware of the challenges and communication needs of deaf people. There are people who have never met a deaf person, who, in the presence of a deaf person, wouldn’t know what to do.