Today, 21 September 2020, begins the week-long commemoration of ‘International Week of the Deaf’ (IWD), with the theme ‘Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights’. The World Foundation of the Deaf (WFD) started the IWD in Rome in 1958 to create awareness about human rights issues and other disadvantages experienced by deaf people in their daily lives. Within this week also falls the UN’s ‘International Day of Sign Languages’ celebrated annually on 23 September; it is specifically dedicated to underscoring the importance of sign language to upholding the human rights of deaf people.
The WFD estimates that there are about 72 million deaf people in the world and a significant percentage are resident in developing countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO), on the other hand, estimates that there are 466 million people with disabling hearing loss worldwide; the burden of which is highest in the Asia Pacific area, southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. WHO’s estimation includes deaf people and those who are hard of hearing; that is, people with hearing loss ranging from mild to severe and who can communicate using words and assistive devices like hearing aids. According to Asonye et al., over 23% of Nigeria’s population is reportedly hearing impaired.
Globally, deaf people, like all people with disabilities (PwDs), experience disadvantages specifically due to their disability. Some of these challenges include:
- Poorer access to health and greater risk to violence;
- Lower access to education and lower educational attainment;
- Lower likelihood of being employed and earning less when employed;
- Likely to be poorer than people without disabilities of similar income due to extra costs incurred towards caring for their disabilities and;
- Exclusion from decision making and social activities.
Hearing loss is a public health concern with significant economic and social costs. Untreated hearing loss can potentially result in an annual cost of $750 billion worldwide and lead to loneliness, frustration and isolation, particularly for the elderly, due to exclusion from social and other communication. According to the WHO, the foremost impact of hearing impairment is on the ability of a deaf person to communicate, which can affect their meaningful participation in society and reduce the chances of their voices being heard. In children, hearing loss leads to a delay in spoken language development and significantly affects their academic performance.
“The major challenge I face as a deaf person aggregating hibiscus is communicating with farmers and potential buyers of my products.” – Hafsat Iman, a hibiscus aggregator and beneficiary of Propcom’s agriculture aggregation intervention
The situation in Nigeria mirrors that of the global deaf community but is worsened due to peculiarities of Nigeria being a less developed nation. These peculiarities comprise ignorance of the needs of deaf people, lack of adequate support from government to enable full participation of deaf people in governance and access to health and social amenities, widespread stigmatisation, which further exacerbates the existing communication gap between deaf people and others, and the lack of interventions to aid early schooling of deaf children, which results in delayed completion of education. Others include inconsistency in sign language taught and used in Nigeria, the lack of legislative recognition of deaf communities and the Nigerian Sign Language, and poverty, which restricts deaf people from acquiring the care and support they need to meaningfully participate in the society.
“I became deaf at the age of 7 years old when I suffered from severe meningitis (cutar sankarau) and my family did not have the means to take care of it. I do not have a dedicated caregiver… my first son, Ahmadu, does most of my caregiving.” – Ali Isma`il Gambo, a waste collection agent and beneficiary of Propcom’s plastic waste management intervention
Half of all cases of hearing loss are avertible through public health measures that may include:
- Immunisation against diseases such as mumps and meningitis known to cause hearing loss if poorly treated;
- Effective care during pregnancy and after birth;
- Desisting from the use of medications that are toxic to the ear;
- Prompt and effective treatment of ear infections;
- Close monitoring of and early assessment of babies’ hearing capabilities and;
- Avoidance of loud noises.
However, where hearing impairment or loss has occurred, those affected can be supported with hearing devices and can learn to communicate by developing lip-reading skills, sign language and writing. Unfortunately, for countries with insufficient policies and standards targeted at the needs of PwDs and weak and ill-funded health systems, the means to avert and/ or manage the cause of hearing loss, and in fact any disability, will always be out of reach for the poor.
Propcom Mai-karfi, working through partnerships with Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and collaborations with development partners, designs and implements interventions that are inclusive of PwD, foster awareness about disability and conditions of PwDs, and strengthens our partners’ organisational ability to include PwDs. Our inclusion work, therefore, extends beyond counting PwDs as beneficiaries to having them as co-implementers or collaborators at the community level. PwDs are supported with training and empowered to improve their living conditions as small business owners, community sensitisers, and conduits to spread knowledge and skills in their communities. We, therefore, join the global community to celebrate PwDs and to appeal to governments, the development community and individuals to continue the good work of supporting and empowering, and upholding the rights of deaf people and PwDs in general.
- World Federation of the Deaf. http://wfdeaf.org/
- International Day of Sign Languages. International Day of Sign Languages’
- Deafness and Hearing Loss. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss
- Millions of People in the World Have Hearing Loss that can be Treated or Prevented. WHO, 2018. https://www.who.int/pbd/deafness/news/Millionslivewithhearingloss.pdf?ua=1
- Global Burden of Disabling Hearing Impairment: A Call to Action. https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/5/13-128728/en/
- Deaf in Nigeria: A Preliminary Survey of Isolated Deaf Communities. Asonye et al., 2018.
- World Report on Disability. World Health Organisation 2011. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/70670/WHO_NMH_VIP_11.01_eng.pdf;jsessionid=42DF331B6265539DE64145A5CDC3FD2C?sequence=1
- Pattern of hearing loss in a tertiary hospital in the North Western Nigeria. Shuaibu et al., 2018. http://www.smjonline.org/article.asp?issn=1118-8561;year=2018;volume=21;issue=4;spage=208;epage=212;aulast=Shuaibu