My ability is stronger than my disabilityOct 13, 2017
International Week of the Deaf is celebrated worldwide to raise awareness at the individual, community and governmental levels about the situation of the Deaf population. This year’s theme was“Full Inclusion with Sign Language.”
The theme carries an important message - those who are deaf can still communicate, and we must include them in our national and community dialogues. The deaf consider themselves to be a linguistic minority group, and they are very proud of their sign languages. It is important that the hearing majority recognize and appreciate the value of sign languages, and see this as a means to accommodate and fully include the interests of the deaf.
In Rwanda, the celebration was held from 9th- 13th October 2017 in Rubavu District where a series of activities were held. These activities included a two- day sensitization workshop with sector and cell representatives on the needs and concerns of the deaf and hard-of-hearing. There was also a sharing of the achievements of the Deaf community and their culture through an art exhibition. The celebration also included an awareness campaign which ended with a march that assembled over 250 persons including members of the Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD), representatives of the National Union of Disability Organizations of Rwanda, the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, District officials and Development Partners.
The purpose of the celebration was to draw attention to the urgent need for more people to learn sign language to improve communication between everyone in the society. History has shown that language barriers often prevent deaf and hard-of-hearing persons from enjoying the same rights as other citizens and from participating in development processes.
Throughout the different discussions held during the closing ceremony of the Week of the Deaf, it was clear that despite the achievements made in recent years, most deaf and hard-of-hearing persons are often under-represented in decision-making structures at all levels of government. The lack of representation of deaf people means many are not included in the planning of government development programmes, and do not have a say in the issues that affect them.
“There is no representative (of the deaf) at local authority level. We need to increase the number who represent us or who can speak for us,” the representative of the National Council for persons with Disabilities, Emmanuel NDAYISABA said.
Mr. Ndayisaba further pointed out that another major challenge is that sign language is not officially recognized in the constitution.
According to the Executive Director of RNUD, Samuel Munana, the Week of the Deaf is celebrated each year in Rwanda since 2010 with the intent to promote the human rights of deaf people, to advocate for their participation in political decision making and inclusion of Kinyarwanda sign language in all development programmes in Rwanda.
“Most of the population is not aware of the abilities and challenges of the deaf. The objective of the celebration is therefore focusing on raising awareness about the deaf, to educate the public about their values and their rights, to make a strong call for improved public and political participation of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in decision making processes as well as to advocate for the recognition of sign language as an official language in Rwanda,” Mr. Munana said.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Mr. Fodé Ndiaye, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Rwanda, wholeheartedly thanked the Government of Rwanda for all the efforts that have been invested in promoting the rights of people with disability. He also lauded the Rwandan National Union of the Deaf for having been a trusted UNDP partner in the Civil Society Organizations for Responsive and Accountable Governance in Rwanda programme.
“I would like to commend the Government of Rwanda for having a strong legal framework for protection of rights of persons with disabilities in the Constitution, and for ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities. In addition, the inclusion of disability as a crosscutting issue in the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2) has undoubtedly contributed to a more inclusive development,” Mr. Ndiaye said.
However, in a view of the current global developmental agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Resident Coordinator stressed the need to ensure that development is inclusive and ‘Leaves No One Behind’. Also referring to this year’s theme, Mr. Ndiaye argued that it is high time everyone learned sign language so as to enable deaf and hard-of-hearing persons to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other citizens.
“We need to stand with people with disabilities, empower them and make good use of their abilities. Let us give opportunities to children with disability to access education. Every child whether disable or not has the right to quality education. They all have potentials that could shape the country of tomorrow if empowered,” Mr. Ndiaye concluded.
Supported by a joint UNDP-Government of Rwanda CSO programme, RNUD has managed to make notable progress towards the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities. Key achievements include lobbying to secure the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2008, and the inclusion of disability as a crosscutting issue in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2. The One UN is committed to continue strengthening partnership with the Government of Rwanda and civil society organisations to promote the rights of the deaf and all persons with disabilities.