Hearing impaired want sign language interpreters at health facilities

Ms Florence Mukasa, a board member at Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) at the Constitutional Court on Wednesday. PHOTO | NTV

What you need to know:

  • Mr Robert Kirunda, the lawyer representing the persons with disabilities argued that failure to provide sign language interpreters at state owned health facilities violates their right to equality and non-discrimination, right to dignity, freedom from cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, right to privacy and information. 

Persons with hearing impairments have petitioned the Constitutional Court to compel the government to provide sign language interpreters in health facilities.

They argued that lack of sign language interpreters at health facilities deprives them of their right to access health services across the country.

Mr Robert Kirunda, the lawyer representing the persons with disabilities argued that failure to provide sign language interpreters at state owned health facilities violates their right to equality and non-discrimination, right to dignity, freedom from cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, right to privacy and information.  

“When you read Clause 2 Article 35 of the Constitution, it requires Parliament to pass a law. The point the petitioners are making is that passing a law is not enough, moreover the law that Parliament passed does not require health providers to provide sign language interpretation,” he argued.

Mr Kirunda added that, “Parliament has since passed two laws so far on the rights of people with disabilities in 2006 and 2020 and none of those says that I must hire a sign language interpreter and we are saying that is an omission that offends the Constitution and this does not require the Parliament but it is court to declare.”

Mr Kirunda made the argument at the hearing of the petition in which Persons with Disabilities are challenging the legality of the government’s failure to require and ensure that sign interpreters are availed at all health facilities.

Civil society organizations; Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) and Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) jointly with Ronald Wasswa, and Josephine Namusisi filed a petition against the Attorney General (AG).

However, the AG has asked the court to dismiss the case reasoning that there is no question for Constitutional interpretation and that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.

“It is not sufficient to only allege that a provision of the Constitution has been infringed or contravened or that an act or omission is inconsistent with or in contravention of the Constitution,” reads the submission.

According to the state, Section 7 of the PWD Act of 2020 provides that a health unit shall not discriminate against a person with disability and therefore the petitioners can rely on it to seek for redress under Article 50 of the Constitution.

A panel of five justices of the Constitutional Court led by Frederick Engonda Ntende heard the petition and set the ruling to be delivered on notice.

Other judges are Elizabeth Musoke, Christopher Madrama, Monica Mugyenyi and Christopher Gashirabake.


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