COMPREHENDING and interpreting COVID-19 information has not been a walk in the park for deaf persons amidst indications that 98% of of the deaf community do not understand the vernacular Shona language.
By Michael Gwarisa
Sign Language Interpreters Association of Zimbabwe (SLIAZ) Chairperson, Professor Lincoln Hlatsyawo told editors and station managers in Chinhoyi recently that the deaf community had been lagging behind in terms of access to COVID-19 and HIV information.
Inaccessible Information Education and Communication (IEC) material has been an issue and in respect of COVID-19 and HIV and AIDS, the situation is even worse. As the media, we need to use disability friendly language, its very important. We don’t call them deaf or dumb, they are not dumb, its just a term that was developed. They are not even handicapped, the term is derogatory.
“With regards to COVID-19, there has been a lack of materials and information in accessible formats (Sign language, captioning, visuals, DVDs & simplified English). 98% of Deaf persons do not understand Shona and over 95% of parents and guardians can not communicate with Deaf children/persons. There has also been lack of HIV and COVID terms in sign language as well as low conceptualization, low education attainment-Deaf English,” said Prof Hlatsyawo.
Zimbabwe has conducted not less than three disability surveys over the past three decades. And according to a recent survey that was conducted by Zimstats, 9.3% of the country’s population are are persons with disabilities.
“Those with hearing impairments are 12% (250-300,000 of the total population), multiple impairments 13%, intellectual disability 8%, mental illness 6%, visual impairments 26%, epilepsy 2%, speech impairment 1%, nerve injuries 1%, albinism 0.3% and physical impairment 31%.
“The constitution of Zimbabwe is very clear and talks about the 16 official languages in Zimbabwe including Sign Language. its very important for us to include Sign Language in all our communications be it on news websites, Television and other communication and information platforms.”
Meanwhile, the National AIDS Council (NAC) recently donated a consignment of transparent face masks to the deaf community to enable them to communicate and read facial impressions.