Features In focus

Sign language vital to break communication barrier

SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Livingstone
THINK of a deaf and dumb who cannot read and write. How will you, an able-bodied person ensure there is no communication barrier? This was a question 25-year-old Francis Lumbwe asked recently.
Mr Lumbwe explained that he became deaf and stopped speaking at the age of one year after an illness.
With sadness painted all over his face, Mr Lumbwe said according to information he got from his mother, he was bewitched by an uncle who is alleged to have been jealous of his family.
Mr Lumbwe said he was optimistic of a bright future even with his condition.
He said even when he is living with hearing challenges, he is a good football player but hopes that all people learn basic sign language skills to help people like him.
Mr Lumbwe urged all well-meaning Zambians to acquire the skill of communicating through sign language so that the deaf can effectively and freely communicate with anyone at any office or any place.
He commended the government for introducing sign language interpreters at all national events, which is helping the deaf feel part of society and participate in public activities.
Despite deafness being a challenge faced by some sections of society in Zambia, little attention is given towards sign language yet it is the most viable communication mode for such people.
However, the right to confidentiality is the cry of most people living with disabilities.
In many scenarios, the people living with certain forms of disability have to always move with an aid, an act that compromises their privacy.
Therefore, the people with hearing problems have not been spared from an infringement of the right to privacy as in some instances an aide has to be involved as a sign language interpreter in their daily communication.
Zambia, like many other African states, is faced with the language barrier, which is one major contributing factor to developmental retardation.
Sign language is a dialect that seems to be ignored especially by people who do not have any hearing problems or do not have a relative with that disability condition.
It is sad that people with hearing problems have a challenge in accessing public offices in most cases because of the language barrier.
Therefore, with a view to promoting mutual understanding between the deaf and those who hear through community participation, teaching sign language and training sign language interpreters is the way to go.
Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Zambia Senior advisor Alick Nyirenda has been empowering his staff with sign language skills.
He observes that communication is critical in the development of any nation and the betterment of one’s life.
Mr Nyirenda said an informed decision can only be made when one is fully informed, and that can only be achieved when there is effective communication.
“For the deaf to make an informed decision, they need to be guided,” he said.
Mr Nyirenda said all public officers in key strategic offices need basic lessons on sign language.
For example, Justine Nyambe’s duty at his work place is to distribute merchandise on a daily basis to some vendors who get a commission according to their daily sales.
Mr Nyambe said sign language must be recognised to an extent of being taught in schools just like local languages.
“The deaf are marginalised. They cannot effectively communicate with the able bodied because of language barriers,” he said.
“The able-bodied people have the capacity to learn sign language,” he said.
Mr Nyambe observes that the people with hearing problems are restricted in terms of access to employment. But in a case where everyone would communicate using sign language they could have a chance to work anywhere.
“These people are incapacitated, they could contribute to the development of the nation if only their communication challenges are resolved,” he said.
Mr Nyambe said the current situation makes the deaf feel miserable as it is painful to talk to someone who cannot understand what one is saying.
He said there is need for civil society organisations to advocate for the deaf so that the many empathetic Zambians can learn sign language.
Mr Nyambe suggested that sign language must be institutionalised and recognised as an additional language to the many spoken languages as it is also a mode of communication among a selected section of society.
“If we can learn French or any other foreign language in Zambia when there are few people who speak it, what is so difficult about learning sign language to effectively communicate with our fellow Zambians who cannot speak,” he said.
As society evolves to cater for people who are physically challenged, there is need for authorities to encompass everyone, especially in institutions of learning, public offices and hospitals.
There are about 70 million deaf people worldwide who use sign language as their first language or mother tongue.
The use of sign and spoken languages doesn’t differ. Both can be used to provide or share information, tell true stories or lies, express poems, tell jokes, discuss scientific and abstract matters as well as have a speech or a lecture.
In every effort to improve deaf people’s human rights, the removal of linguistic barriers is of paramount importance. A deaf person must have the right to use sign language in any given situation.
If sign language is taught at a young age, less discrimination and more social inclusion will occur.
It is important for children with and without disabilities to learn side-by-side. It helps everybody appreciate the talents and gifts children bring with them regardless of their condition.
Society has the responsibility to promote the inclusion.

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