Push for introduction of basic sign language subject in schools

Counties Editor's Pick Education Nyeri

The deaf community living in Nyeri County have vowed to lobby the Ministry of Education through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to introduce sign language at the basic level of education.

They are proposing for Kenya Sign Language to be taught at Early Childhood Development Education centres and at the primary school level as the first step towards addressing some of the challenges hindering the hearing impaired from living a dignified life.

Nominated ward rep Lucy Wanyitu centre, feeds cake to a pupil from Tumu Tumu school for the deaf during celebrations to mark International Sign Language Day at the Whispers Park in Nyeri.Photo by Wangari Ndirangu.

Additionally, they also want the county government to start employing ECDE teachers with knowledge of sign language as a way of ensuring that the hearing impaired get fair shot at education as their hearing counterparts.

“The challenges for the hearing impaired start at the foundation level, where the parent does not have knowledge of sign language, and when these children go to school, they find teachers are not conversant with the sign language.

This inequality can be addressed at the foundation level by introducing Kenya Sign Language (KSL) in our curriculum, where it will be taught just like Kiswahili or English,” said Monica Muthoni, a deaf person living in Nyeri.

“The county governments can also play a role by employing ECDE teachers with knowledge in sign language so that these children can have a strong education foundation and they can be equal with the hearing,” she added.

Speaking during the International Sign Language Day celebrations in Nyeri County, the deaf community also challenged the national and county governments to address inequalities facing the deaf community in the job market.

The constitution of Kenya and the Persons with Disability Act of 2003 require that at least five per cent of the workforce in both the private and public sectors should be people living with disabilities.

However, they said that despite presenting their petitions to the relevant state organs, they had yet to get any feedback on how the issues raised were being addressed by both national and county governments.

“We have been talking about inclusivity in the job market, but when you go to the offices, you will not find an employed deaf person, and yet they have different skills. So we are asking, where are the jobs for the deaf?” posed Ruguru.

Some of the challenges they want addressed include the employment of sign language interpreters in all government offices, including hospitals. They are also lobbying for the inclusion of the hearing impaired in community activities such as public participation forums.

“We have one big challenge, particularly when trying to access health services, because you have to go with an interpreter. This infringes on our right to privacy because it means that our health matters, which are supposed to be a private matter between the doctor and the patient, have to be handled by a third person,” she added.

To commemorate the day, members of the deaf community staged a walk along the streets of Nyeri, creating awareness about their language, before converging at Whispers Park to commemorate the day.

According to the National Council for Persons with Disabilities county director, Kenneth Kabene, the day was set aside by the United Nations to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users.

He said that NCPWD is working with both tiers of government to address the challenges facing people living with disabilities.

“As a government agency, we appreciate that unemployment is one of the issues affecting PWDs, and we are working with county and national governments to resolve them,” said Kabane.

The celebrations were also graced by the Nyeri County Children’s Officer, Kung’u Mwaniki; the Social Services Director, Lilian Olunga; the Chief Officer in the county department of Social Services, Joe Gethi; and his Public Service counterpart, Joseph King’ori. Also present were nominated ward reps representing PWDs, Pauline Nyokabi and Lucy Wanyitu.

On her part, Wanyitu said that the county assembly is in the process of amending the Nyeri County Disability Act of 2017 to include regulations.

She noted that the amendments will, among other things, give autonomy to disability issues. Currently, women, youth, and PWDs are clustered as one group. Additionally, the amendments will address issues of the employment of PWDs as well as creating a fund to support their activities in the county.

“The amendments touch on health, employment, education, and funding. One of the highlights is the proposal to set aside funds in the county budget, which will only cater for PWD issues,” said Wanyitu.

“The act will also merge both levels of government and give guidelines on how they can work together to ensure that people with disabilities are catered for. Once it comes into effect, both governments can be sued for failing to follow the provisions,” she added.

By Wangari Mwangi

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