Thandeka Moyo, Chronicle Reporter
SIGN language must be more broadly used as one of Zimbabwe’s official languages to ensure that the deaf play an active role in growing the economy, an official has said.
Speaking after training 140 people on how to use sign language in Bulawayo last week, Mr Douglas Mapeta from the Sunrise Sign Language Academy said it was time the hearing impaired had equal access to everything as citizens of Zimbabwe.
The World Deaf Federation estimates that about 80 000 people in Zimbabwe suffer from hearing impairments and the justice system, health care and economic development have been inaccessible to deaf people in the country.
“We are here in Bulawayo to train the police, medical practitioners, pastors and the general public on the basics of sign language. It is indeed a break of a new dawn as the constitution calls for sign language to be treated as an official language so the deaf also participate in the mainstream economy and development,” said Mr Mapeta.
He said so far he had partnered with the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development to train officials on special needs.
“We cannot wait for donors to pump money for us to empower our deaf but we can as individuals change our attitudes and help them,” he said.
“Sign language is meant to equip the hearing with skills to communicate with the deaf and empower the deaf with technical skills so they can become their own employers.
“So far the deaf are known to be bad in subjects being taught in our skills in Zimbabwe because we do not have trained personnel to teach for example English language in sign language.”
Mr Mapeta added that countries like Kenya already had highly skilled deaf professionals.
“We have trained 140 people who showed an interest in learning at least the basics in sign language and we know there is hope for the deaf in Bulawayo. We urge even churches to consider the deaf as they must access religious activities and the Bible in their own language and through the hearing who are catalysts.”
Pastor Lulama Tshuma of the Seventh – Day Adventist church West Zimbabwe conference said he was happy that members of the public had participated in the programme.
“We hosted Bulawayo residents from all denominations and professions for a week and in our engagement realised that indeed the deaf had been sidelined. We will now work towards inclusivity in the church and ensure that they can access church activities in totality,” he said.