Push For Sign Language Law Gathers Momentum

By Sij Ncube

Harare, October 13, 2016 – IN attempts to empower deaf people and others of hard-hearing, a local human rights organisation is lobbying President Robert Mugabe’s administration to enact a law which will make it mandatory to have sign language interpreters at all public institutions.

Presently, deaf people do not have access to sign language interpreters’ at most public institutions in Zimbabwe such as health care facilities, police stations, register general’s office and schools, making it difficult to seek help from public servants.

There is concern from activists and other non-governmental organisations working with the deaf that these members of the society are being treated as second class citizens.

Reports also say 90 % of children with disabilities are not attending school.

Due to lack of sign language in public institutions, deaf people continue to lose out socially, politically and economically.

But Barbra Nyangairi, an executive with the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT), says access to services and opportunities through the use of sign language would make the deaf and hard-of-hearing equal to all.

“This is particularly important as the country strives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Zimbabwe has progressive constitutional provisions that if implemented, people who are deaf and hard of hearing will live more fulfilling and prosperous lives,” she said.

Nyangairi disclosed that the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust was pursuing legislative changes and has been courting legislators and other members of the executive in its push to have legislation on sign language introduced in parliament.

“The Disability Act is under review creating an opportunity for more progressive changes to be done,” she added.

Statistics indicate Zimbabwe has 85 964 deaf children and over 90 percent of these children are not in school.

In September 2013, Primary and Secondary Education Minister, Lazarus Dokora said only 2 261 deaf children were receiving education in the country’s 115 resource units and nine special schools in Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.

On 19-25 September, the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust joined the global deaf community in commemorating the International Week for the Deaf under the theme “With Sign Language, I am equal”.

The theme drew attention to Sign Language as a vehicle through which the Deaf can fully participate as citizens equal to all.

Sign Language is increasingly taking centre stage in deaf issues globally. Most notable is the move by the deaf community in South Africa to take to the streets in peaceful protest to have Sign Language recognised as one of South Africa’s official languages.

DZT advocates for the right to quality education for children who are deaf, arguing the educational outcomes of deaf children are poor as a result of a number of factors such as language barriers, lack of appropriate accommodations in assessments.