Council empowers the deaf

2017-04-12 06:02
Fanie du Toit

Fanie du Toit

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Equal access to information and full inclusion in the workplace are global human rights.

However, little of that is the reality for South Africans who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Around 7,8 million people in South Africa experience hearing loss, World Health Organisation figures show.

Of these, about 3,5 million have disabling hearing loss.

Persons with disabilities have been marginalised for many years and the deaf or hearing impaired community, who experience hearing loss but rely primarily on spoken communication, has been excluded for even longer.

During Hearing Awareness Month, the National Council of Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) calls for the recognition and use of different ways to bridge communication gaps between hearing people and persons who are deaf or hearing impaired.

The use of technology beyond hearing aids, such as loop systems and the support of communication facilitators like lip speakers or note takers, can make a big difference during interaction.

The council demands that the rights of this group of citizens, who do not use a signed language as primary means of communication, should be upheld.

The government’s white paper on the rights of persons with disabilities protects the right of access to information and communication and is clear on the provision of captioning for those who are deaf or hearing impaired.

The NCPD is therefore deeply disappointed that the broadcast of the State of the Nation Address 2017 ignored the rights of the deaf or hearing impaired persons, who require captioning to enjoy equal access to television broadcasts.

This is despite the NCPD’s communication with role-players in this regard since 2015 to have the situation turned around.

Captioning is a constitutional right and broadcasters should take appropriate measures to make sure captions are used, particularly when televising issues of national importance.

Exclusion socially isolates individuals or groups by not allowing them to fully participate in national dialogue and society, which is to the detriment of the entire community and ultimately does not support those experiencing hearing loss in coming forward.

The thorny issue of “reasonable accommodation” in the workplace of persons who are deaf or hearing impaired closely relates to captioning.

It refers to modifications or alterations to the way a job is normally performed – depending on the working environment and specific impairment.

Contrary to what many employers believe, a South African sign language interpreter is not always the solution.

For those relying on speech to communicate, there are options like assistive technology and communications facilitators, such as note takers, that can give support in, for example, meetings.

In 2007, South Africa signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This includes the reasonable accommodation of persons with sensory impairment (in this case, hearing) to reduce the impact on their capacity to, for example, perform the essential functions of a job.

Until recently, many of these individuals had nowhere to turn.

Thankfully, the NCPD is equipped and ready to help empower them to address previous inequalities. – Fanie du Toit, public education and awareness manager at the NCPD.

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