Africa, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-UGANDA: Deaf People Speak Out Against Marginalisation

Evelyn Kiapi Matsamura

KAMPALA, Apr 2 2004 (IPS) - People with disabilities in Uganda say they have been marginalised for too long. They are now demanding that their basic rights be restored and recognised.

Addressing a news conference at their headquarters in the capital Kampala on Mar. 29, members of the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) said government should commit itself to granting them access to education and employment.

The government, they say, should also avail sign language interpretation at all public places.

According to the 1991 Population and Housing Census, there are about 2.4 million disabled people in Uganda, 10 percent of who are deaf. Around 80 percent of the deaf cannot read and write and 70 percent cannot count to 10, according to the census. Rights groups say these figures could rise if the 2001 census is released.

Joseph Mbulamwana, UNAD’s information officer, urged government to promote education for the deaf. “Education is the basis of everything in life. Without education, there is no work. You cannot learn to read and write,” he says.

Much as there are policies the government is working on to help the deaf continue with their education, Mbulamwana says “much of that is left on paper. There is no action.”

But Christopher Wimon Okecho, of Special Needs Education in the Ministry of Education, says the government has not ignored the deaf.

According to him, ‘The Basic Education Policy and Cost Framework for Educationally Disadvantaged Children’ that was discussed by the ministry of education in Oct. 2002 is awaiting cabinet approval.

The policy calls for construction of schools, payment of special teachers and translators and introduction of a sign language curriculum as required by the 1995 Uganda Constitution, he says.

“All the complaints by UNAD are here (in the draft policy). It’s only implementation that is left. That is the problem that government is facing now,” Okecho says.

“We recognise that these children need special care, but the policy requires a lot of money which is not readily available,” he says.

“The level of implementation is the problem. Things cannot be done overnight. The resources that are available allow things to be done in phases,” Okecho explains.

Deaf people also complain about the “unrealistic mode” of examination setting and marking by the Uganda National Examination Board at both primary and secondary levels. They say the examiners have no skills in handling deaf students.

Since 1997 deaf students have been writing the same examinations with other children. Before then, they had their own vocational education syllabus.

Okecho says deaf children should be given an education that puts them at equal footing with other children.

“When you give them only vocational training, they will think they are inferior,” he says.

Mbulamwana says the number of deaf school dropouts is growing. When the World Bank-backed Universal Primary Education started seven years ago, about 15,000 disabled children enrolled, he says.

“After seven years, less than 1,000 sat for Primary Leaving Education. Many of them dropped out. Why? Because they have nowhere to go,” he says.

In fact, the Ministry of Education’s Monitoring System 2003 report shows that the number of deaf children in school reduced as they advanced.

Some 14,897 deaf children joined primary one in 2003. But for primary seven, the number was as low as 2,185. Only 443 students were recorded in senior one and 75 in senior six. After senior six, a student has has passed examinations proceeds to the university.

“The students are facing challenges of being supported in the classes,” the report says.

IPS met some of these challenges when it visited Kampala School for the Deaf, which has 194 children. Of these, seven are deaf who have lost their sight.

The school has 24 teachers. Of these, only 18 are on the government payroll. “All the teachers are supposed to be paid by the government but it is not easy to get access to the government payroll,” says Edmond Musoke, the acting head teacher.

He says 12 children are admitted to his school every year. “There are so many children out there who would like to join this school but we do not have enough places. The challenge we have is to get these children to the level of their counterparts who can hear. This is because they all write the same examinations,” he says.

Musoke complains that the command of the written grammar of the deaf students is not as clear as that of their counterparts with no hearing problems. He attributes the problem to the children’s first language – sign language.

“We are trying to persuade the Uganda National Examinations Board to revise their question setting as well as the language for the deaf,” he says.

Some deaf children travel to neighbouring Kenya to pursue secondary education. This is because Ngora High School, which was set up as a pilot project for the deaf in Uganda, has limited capacity.

The deaf also complain about human rights abuses, says Florence Mukasa, UNAB’s Gender Officer.

“Culturally, women belong to the kitchen. This also affects deaf women and girls,” she said through an interpreter Prossy Ssubi.

“Deaf women have been oppressed by a double force. We are first of all deaf, and we are women. When parents are taking their deaf children to school, they choose a deaf boy rather than a deaf girl.

“We have many girls who have no education, and they are not employed,” she says.

Deaf people also have no access to HIV/AIDS messages especially on electronic media. “The deaf cannot get access to this information because they cannot hear the news,” Mukasa says.

Only the state-run Uganda Television has translation facility for the deaf at news time.

Alex Ndeezi, a Member of Parliament representing People With Disabilities, says they are targeting employers to take in deaf people.

“We want employers to change their attitude towards deaf people,” he says.

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