If you are Kenyan then this is what you see when you are watching news; a news anchor and a passport size sign language interpreter positioned at a place that will not disturb you. Now take a minute and look at what they are signing. You literally have to squint your eyes to see yet that is the sought of ‘privilege’ we have given the deaf. I once scrolled through the Signet channels and stumbled across ‘Sign Tv’ which I think was meant to provide entertainment to the hearing impaired. However, this was a futile effort since its very existence to the deaf in Kenya was unheard of.
You see communication is something close to my heart as I have been in areas where I felt caged for lacking a proper voice due to communication barriers. (I am a very vocal person.) So from these moments, I sought to know what happens to those who completely were not born with the ability to speak or hear and that is how I stumbled upon the deaf community in Kenya and their plight. So, in this post, I will be sharing what I learnt.
First, in Kenya, if you give birth to a deaf child, more emphasis is laid on you taking the child to school rather than locking them up in the house. I get that this is informed by a previous practice where it was common to hide children living with disability and there was some stigma associated with people living with disabilities. However, currently, that is not such a major issue because people do take their children to school but with the current system, parents never get to see their children as they ‘look for money to provide a better future’. So that said, these parents will not ‘have time’ to learn sign language and guess what, it is not even compulsory in our country so from the early stages these children are at a disadvantage.
We say we are providing equal opportunities to everyone yet the school curriculum for the deaf does not give them that luxury. They are taught sign language which is a language on its own just like Swahili is different from a vernacular language then have their exams set in English and are expected to pass. I can only compare that to being taught in Kikuyu then having to do an English exam. But then again life is not fair, right?
Aside from school, the deaf do not get to enjoy doctor patient confidentiality as they have an interpreter present in all their hospital visits. Imagine some intimate things you get to ask your doctor but having to ask them through someone else. In the police stations, it is common to have to wait for an interpreter when a deaf person needs to report a crime.
FEDWEN-K has taken up the initiative to educate and empower the deaf community by teaching them their constitutional rights and matters on gender-based violence. Led by a deaf lady by the name Aska, the organization, which funds itself, has created a safe space for the deaf community in Kenya.