Tuesday, November 9, 2010

National Deaf Association of Ghana wants government to encourage more people to learn sign language

From Citi fm online:

There are over 20,000 deaf people in Ghana but sign language is rarely taught in schools. The National Deaf Association of Ghana wants government to encourage more people to learn sign language and employ more sign language translators.

They pointed to the recent death of a deaf man named Kofi Mensah at a hospital in Accra as an example why government needs to take sign language seriously.

Stephen Mensah says his cousin Kofi shouldn't have died at the age of 34. Kofi Mensah's wife brought her husband to hospital a few weeks ago when he had trouble breathing. Kofi and his wife were a hearing impaired couple. Kofi was unconscious when he reached the hospital and his wife couldn't read or write.

No one at the hospital could understand his wife's sign language. There was no way his wife could tell the doctor her husband's history of heart trouble, and Stephen says his cousin died because she couldn't communicate with the staff.

"Automatically they don't know what's wrong with him," Mensah told Citi FM. "He can't say what's wrong with him, he can't write and his wife can't write. Without knowing sign language they can't get what the woman is saying, so they just had to do their best."

Kofi Mensah was one of 20,000 hearing impaired Ghanaians, according to the Ghana National Association for the Deaf. He became deaf after a sickness seven years ago and had to learn sign language to communicate.

Stephen says his cousin was a happy man and had many friends despite his disability.

"Kofi, was someone who was social, very lively," said Mensah. "When he's with you, you only feel happy."

Stephen says not enough people know sign language in hospitals and government offices, and government needs to do more to get translators working in those facilities.

"We know in this country we have deaf people," he said. "I believe if every hospital had a translator which can be there when a deaf person come, it would have been better. Maybe we would not pass away."

Stephen helps run a deaf ministry at his church. He has seen many cases when the deaf face disadvantages that could easily be eliminated.

"When you interview for your visa, they have to go bring their own sound translators," Mensah explained. "They have to pay that person with their own money. Meanwhile, the person who can speak Twi but can't speak English, they have employed someone there who understand Twi and can translator for them. So I believe our fathers don't care for the deaf people."

Kofi's death hurt Johnson Mahma badly. Mahma knew Kofi through his work with the deaf association. He lost his hearing when he was five because of cerebral meningitis and is now a project officer with the association.

Deaf people in Ghana face many unnecessary disadvantages, according to Mahma. He says government needs to recognize sign language as one of Ghana's official languages and place more importance on teaching sign language in school. The association is lobbying the University of Education to increase the number of credit hours for teaching in sign language.

"The root cause of this is lack of communication, especially use of sign language," Mahma said. "If sign language is recognized as the language of the deaf, and came out with some [supportive] policies, I think our lives would be more like our brothers and sisters."

Pius Abeviadey is the administrative officer at the association for the deaf. He says the government discriminates against deaf people by not communicating to them in sign language.

"Education on the census for example, on GTV they had it in the local dialects like Akan and Hausa," he said. "But there wasn't anything for the deaf. If they don't have access to that information, it's a problem. When we say government should recognize sign language, we say government should do more to promote sustained sign language."

Stephen Mensah believes his cousin would be alive today if the hospital he visited had a sign language translator on duty. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told Citi FM that training someone for each hospital would be too expensive, but Mensah feels it is worth the price.

"Money or life, which one is expensive?" he asked. "I believe caring for the people, caring for life ... please ... this is not expensive."