By Fatoumatta K. Jallow
“The new Education Policy emphasizes that deaf people will have better access to the present and future education opportunities in the country. However, the policy fails to emphasize the sign language strategy without which deaf people cannot make any real use of these education opportunities,” said Mr. Loum, the Executive Director of the Gambia Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (GADHOH).
He said this on Thursday 22nd September 2016, as GADHOH commenced the commemoration of International Deaf Week with the theme “With sign language I am equal”.
He said if the education policy is what is going to guide the education service delivery in the country for the next 14 years without alteration, the deaf people will not only drown below surface but will sink to the bottom of the river while the rest of the society are sailing in the development boat.
“The poor performance of deaf children in special schools and integrated settings is not so much the fault of the children’s teachers as inadequate strategic planning and resources allocation,” said the GADHOH Executive Director.
Mr. Loum emphasised that awareness of disability and concern about the plight of the disabled is mounting in the Gambia and pressing stakeholders into action, adding that the government has now ratified the United Nations convention on the right of persons with Disabilities (UNCRP) and its optional protocol.
He said the long awaited legal and policy frameworks for action are now close to formal ratification and adoption respectively and the new education opportunities are already adopted by the education ministries.
The GADHOH Executive Director said if this Disability Bill is legislated or made an Act and the Integrated National Disability Policy adopted, then the lives of persons with disability groups will take a turn for the better. “If the frameworks for action are meant for the wellbeing of all the various disability groups in the Gambia, then surely they need improvement,” he added.
Mr. Loum said the Disability Policy recommends sign language as the language of instruction for deaf children and youths in schools.
“We therefore appeal to the law and policy makers as well as strategic planners to facilitate deaf peoples learning in sign language and promote linguistic identity of our deaf community and also facilitate deaf people’s interaction in sign language to get information and to express themselves in sign language as in official interaction,” concluded the Executive Director of GADHOH.
Madam Emily Sarr, representing the UNDP office in The Gambia, noted that it is a great honor for her to address the gathering as guest speaker on this auspicious occassion marking the start of the widely recognized International Deaf Week.
She said the theme calls to mmd the importance of sign language as a means of ensuring that the deaf have the ability to give and receive information effectively with each other and with the community at large.
She said the observance of this week is especially important as it helps to highlight an issue that is directly affecting them in the public discourse with the view to create greater awareness and deeper understanding of the challenge and how best to respond.
“It is common knowledge that the ability to receive information and respond correctly is the basis of learning and that the lack of such ability is the single most factor that explains the plight of the deaf and hard of hearing,” said Mrs. Sarr.
She furthermore noted that the commemoration of the week also creates opportunities to mobilize support, promote accessibility and embark on the removal of other societal barriers impeding the progress and wellbeing of the deaf.
“Thus the need to provide sign language training for the deaf and hard of hearing as well as the relatives, public officials, teachers and friends interacting with them on a daily basis. Directly related to this message is the critical shortage of qualified sign language instructors,” said the UNDP official.
The guest speaker stressed that the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) requires nations to recognize that the human rights of people with disabilities deserve the same level of commitment that governments demonstrate toward the rights of people without disabilities and society as a whole.
She concluded that the CRPD specifically states that governments are to recognize sign language as an official language in the Constitution and/or special legislation, ensure professional interpreter services, and guarantee education to deaf people in their sign language.
Mr Abdoulie Njie, President of Gambia Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (GADHOH), expressed appreciation on behalf of Banjul Branch for benefiting from a milling machine and the Brikama Branch for the motor vehicle (van) from a Gamworks project.
He further disclosed that Gambia Deaf Sports had also received a Van, adding that Gamworks has also funded the building of GADHOH conference and overnight facility.
“Most Gambian deaf people are self-employed and do not engage in begging,” he disclosed.
Mr. Njie said they are encouraging deaf people with skills to take up self-employment and if possible partner with other groups to do business.
He emphasised that if deaf people want to make GADHOH to be strong then they need to be registered and paying the annual D100 membership fee. “They should be attending GADHOH meetings and participating in its activities,” he advised.
Mr. Njie further advised that deaf people who are new in the association should always seek the company of other deaf people to be more fluent in Gambian sign language.
Mr. Ebrima Dibbassy, Executive Director of Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD), who also spoke at the event, said this deaf week is about raising awareness on the situation of what deaf people are facing in their daily life’s and one of the issue is about sign language because sign language have been a very critical issue which has really been affecting the development of the deaf community in the Gambia.
He said the way forward is to have a disability friendly environment in the Gambia. “This has been a strong objective for the federation to make sure that disabled people are not passive as tax consumers, because we want to see disabled people as tax contributors in nation building and together we believe that with stakeholders we will be able to make Gambia a better for all of us, including people with disability”, added the GFD Executive Director.
Mr. Anthony Gomez, representative of the Ministry of Local Governments and Lands, for his part, said they should also reflect on what being a deaf entails and what a deaf person needs on a daily basis to communicate his needs to other members of the society, to pursue a career and most importantly how to meet their daily basic needs.
“As a community, we should mark the day by reflecting on a fair and unbiased judgment of how much do we contribute to assisting deaf people in meeting their needs upon interacting with them,” said Mr. Gomez.
“ So in my view, the international week should not only be a celebration, but an opportunity for us to pause and look at what we have achieved and what is still left to be done,” said the official from the local government ministry.
Mr. Gomez said there is need to promote the welfare of the deaf through Prohibition of discrimination, Protection of just and favorable conditions of work, Vocational Training, Promotion of self-employment and Provision of employment in the Public Sector.
“In view of the above, the MOLRG by extension The Government of the Gambia has since been playing her role in the inclusion process by including the deaf as part of our lives at school work or in community and sporting activities. Partnerships with disability organizations have been forged over the years to achieve positive change and most importantly, local government councils have supported GADHOH in many areas to facilitate change in the lives of the deaf,” said Mr. Gomez.
Every year, some 70 million deaf people worldwide celebrate this event which is recognized by the UN and is meant to draw attention of society on deaf issues, as well as disseminate information on deaf people and deafness for the purpose of promoting their human rights and full participation in society.