Anne Mwenesi is a teacher by profession and sign language interpreter by passion. You can tell this by how graceful she is while interpreting during the financial literacy training of women living with disabilities. She describes herself as an intermediary between the hearing and the deaf world (hard-of-hearing, hearing-impaired, and deaf).
The Kenya National Special Needs Education survey commission reported in 2014 that 1 in every 10 people suffers from a hearing problem. This makes Kenya among the leading countries in cases of the deaf when compared to the global average of 5 out of 100 people (WHO). Also, it makes Mwenesi among the few bridging the gap for people with hearing problems in various settings-just like during the financial literacy training of PWDs.
Are the Deaf Heard?
‘The deaf have been side-lined in many aspects of society. It makes them believe that the world is not on their side. Also, it makes them feel taken for granted. This should not be the case because we are equal. If you think about it, all of us are limited in one way or another. Therefore, we need an inclusivity mindset in every person’, says Mwenesi
‘One of my clients once asked me to accompany her to a worship place; when I arrived, I took my seat to the front where she could see me interpreting. To my surprise, I was told that the only place I could sit was at the back. I was heartbroken. But, I learned, nowadays, I talk to the speaker to agree the best place to sit and interpret’, Mwenesi painfully adds.
Organizations in Kenya that support people with hearing problems
Mwenesi’s words direct to the challenges faced by people in their environment. Every person yearns for acceptance and compromise. How far are we willing to accommodate our brothers and sisters with hearing problems?
The mentioned gaps do not entirely imply that our country is not doing anything to ensure inclusivity for people with hearing problems. In fact, the work being done by the various associations for the deaf in Kenya is commendable. Through them, people with hearing disabilities have been trained on skills and impacted with knowledge hence improving their employability, success when in case they venture into entrepreneurship, and social skills.
Organizations like the Kenya National Association for the Deaf, Deaf Athletics Association, Deaf Ability Initiative and Deaf Artist Culture are doing wonderful work and it would be unfair not to mention what they do. They organize outreaches in the corporate worlds to create awareness on the inclusivity. They organize training workshops to train on business management, financial literacy, leadership, and advocacy. However, people the deaf do not exist in isolation. They exist within us, and this must be reflected in the effort we make to communicate.
Communicating with and Including PWDs need to Be Deliberate
‘Apart from the lows, I have some of the best moments in my life through interpreting. When people (with and without hearing problems) appreciate my role in connecting them, it is humbling and uplifting at the same time. We need more people who can communicate in sign language’.
Part of the argument put forward in favor of the limited opportunities for the deaf and unwillingness to interact with them is that their form of communication is complicated. It may be-when we look at it as a skill we must master. However, sign language is a language and can be learned and used just like we do with other foreign languages we learn in schools. It is not too difficult; we find it difficult because it requires deliberate effort.
The financial literacy training supported by the African Women Development Fund, is among the deliberate effort being made by Hope Foundation for African Women to support the inclusion of Women Living with disabilities through leadership, business management, and financial literacy skills. The program is a learning platform for all of us, people living with and without disabilities, on how to be fair and empowering to each other.