Over 1m Ugandans in need of sign language interpreters

What you need to know:

  • Government urged to integrate sign language in teacher training.

More than one million people with hearing impairments in Uganda need at least a sign language interpreter at every public school or health facility so that they can access services, according to civil society.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Ms Elizabeth Atori, the legal affairs officer at the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), said to cater for this shortfall, government should consider integrating sign language into teacher training.

“In 2014, the number of deaf Ugandans was around one million but now the number has increased. At least in every public school and health facility in Uganda, we should have one sign language interpreter because the number of deaf people has increased,” Ms Atori said.
 “If we integrate sign language into the teachers training, then what you are doing is rolling out teachers that know sign language so that the teacher will be able to sign for a deaf student, likewise to doctors, nurses, police officers, and court, among others,” Ms Atori added.
She also called upon health facilities to include sign language training in their training modules.

Mr Robert Nkwangu, the executive director of the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD), said people with hearing impairments form a vulnerable portion of the population who face challenges in accessing services yet they actively partake in mainstream development of the country.
 “The issue of sign language interpretation is within the justice law and order sector, and we appreciate that police have one sign language interpreter in the entire country but also what media houses do is during the Monday police press briefing, you people cut off our sign language interpreter and only leave [Fred] Enanga speaking, so that is how media houses also discriminate the deaf people,” he said. Mr Nkwangu also asked the government to help train police officers in sign language so that they can help people with hearing impairments access justice in recording statements.

“We are training 39 sign language interpreters in Iganga where this year’s celebrations of the International Week of the Deaf will take place and among these are police officers, teachers, nurses and doctors,” he said.
“These are to aid deaf people access information and services so that incase a deaf mother goes to a health facility with a problem, they can talk to the doctor directly other than having an interpreter, because some information may be private and the patient only wants to share it with a doctor,” he added.
Mr Nkwangu also revealed that they have taught sign language to parents so that they can also communicate with their children.

Recent case
Early this month, Civil society organisations; Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) and Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) jointly with Mr Ronald Wasswa, and Ms Josephine Namusisi filed a petition at the Constitutional Court to compel the government to provide sign language interpreters in health facilities. According to the 14 National Housing and Population Census, there are 1,083,649 deaf people in Uganda, which represents about 3 percent of Uganda’s population.