Health Education Providers Acquire Sign Language Skills

The words by Lou Ferrigno, an icon to the deaf community who overcame hearing difficulties to succeed in film and fitness industries, seem to be the driving force behind the
determination of the Deaf Ability Initiative (DAI) to improve the quality of life for the deaf. DAI, a not-for-profit organisation, is on a mission to improve the lives of people with
hearing impairments by enabling them to demonstrate their  full potential through promotion of social inclusion and economic empowerment.

DAI has faced a myriad of challenges in implementing their initiatives ranging from resource limitations to continued marginalization of its members by their host communities. With a KES 3 Million grant from Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), DAI rolled out a health programme targeting deaf and hard of hearing individuals with access to health and education services as well as employment opportunities.

Under the programme, health and education providers were trained on sign language to enable them better communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people in order to provide better health and education services to them. DAI also started an urban agriculture project to create employment opportunities and boost income for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Programme co-ordinator Lawrence Musili, who is also deaf, laments at the challenges the deaf and hard of hearing individuals face in health and learning institutions where service providers are not able to communicate in sign language. “We do not have health officers trained in sign language who can handle deaf patients and this makes access to healthcare very difficult. The situation is similar in the education sector where the deaf must go to special needs schools for them to learn. ” Says
Musili through an interpreter.

To overcome communication barriers involving deaf & hard of hearing individuals, and social service providers, DAI with the support from Sign Language Resource Centre (SLRC) started training nurses and clinical officers in select hospitals and schools in Nairobi with basic sign language skills. Among the hospitals that have benefited from the
training include Mama Lucy Referral Hospital, Pumwani Maternity Hospital and Mbagathi District Hospital.

The Initiative was also started in Wangu Primary School in Dandora and Kenyatta University. The SLRC programme coordinator, Lucy Njeri, says the project involves training and deploying of interpreters in health facilities to help deaf and hard of hearing patients communicate with nurses. “Many deaf and hard of hearing people shy away from visiting hospitals because health providers are not able to communicate and understand the ailments that they are suffering from with ease. The situation is even worse when the patient is not literate and cannot write down his/her medical problem.” Njeri says.

Since the project began, a number of nurses have realised the importance of learning sign language as a communication tool and are willing to undergo
the training sessions. “With more health and education providers acquiring basic sign language skills, the deaf now feel appreciated
when the seek services in hospitals and schools.” She says

The SLRC also provides the deaf with resources such as books, charts and brochures with information on a number of issues of interest to the group. Under the urban agriculture project, about 40 deaf people have been trained on farming, entrepreneurship and project management; and given credit facilities from a revolving fund to set up individual projects.

“With the support of KCDF we have been able to equip many deaf people with skills so that they too can earn sustainable
income from farming. This has improved the lives of our members.” Affirms Musili during a tour of a poultry project run by the organisation in Utawala Estate, Nairobi. Musili says they have also learnt from other people who have run similar projects successfully following exchange programmes facilitated by KCDF.

A number of deaf people are employed to work on the project permanently and are now able to earn wages which they use to meet their financial obligations. Musili is upbeat that once the more than 450 hens begin laying eggs, the organisation will earn sufficient income to expand and sustain the project that has won them admiration from the local community.

A number of able-bodied people from the area have been visiting the project site to learn how to breed chicken. “People think that if you are disabled you cannot earn your
own income, but we are proving them wrong as this project has given us opportunity to demonstrate what we capable of.” Says Musili. He notes that those who have benefited from loans disbursed through the revolving fund are repaying loans in good time, a fact that points to how well their income generating activities are doing.

Musili says before KCDF came to their assistance, the organisation was only doing advocacy on HIV and Aids issues but now they are able to transform the lives of deaf people in more meaningful ways. He lauds the partnership, noting that the DIA has been able to build its capacity to manage projects following support from KCDF. “We have been able to improve the quality of our reports and financial management after the grantor facilitated trainings on report writing and financial planning for our staff.” He says

He, however, feels the duration of the projects should be extended beyond the current one year and funds made available in not more than two tranches as opposed to the quarterly disbursements for more impact.

“The disbursement of funds is made in four quarterly tranches and when there are delays we experience project interruptions,” Says Musili. Although the funding for programme is expected to last for a year, the organisation’s finance officer, Victor Otieno, is confident they will continue with the projects and venture into more activities even after the grant is exhausted.

“The poultry project will bring in money once we begin selling the eggs. Plans are also underway to start a greenhouse project to farm kales, onions and tomatoes, which we will be able to sell to local supermarkets and individuals.” Otieno, who is also deaf, explains through an interpreter.

The organisation has established linkages with other organisations, courtesy of KCDF, through which they are able to access more opportunities for funding.

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