Malawi govt, donors move to bridge information gap for persons with hearing impairments

Malawi government and its development partners are discussing on the need to roll out a programme aimed at training and increasing the number of sign language interpreters in the country.

Kaliati and Torres addressing stakeholders about this year’s commemoration–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times
Some of the stakeholders at the launch of the International Week of the Deaf and International Day of Sign Languages
Kaliati and Torres addressing stakeholders about this year’s International Week of the Deaf and International Day of Sign Languages–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

The Ministry of Gender, Children, Community Development and Social Welfare, Patricia Annie Kaliati, disclosed on Monday that the major goal of the programme will be to bridge the yawning communication gap that people with hearing impairments are facing to access various social and economic services in Malawi.

Kaliati made the remarks in Lilongwe at the launch of International Week of the Deaf and International Day of Sign Languages.

The International Day of Sign Languages and the Deaf Week which falls on 23rd of September annually and the last full week of September, respectively.

This annual observance was proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 72/161.

The commemoration theme for this year is “Sign Language Right for All!”

In Malawi, the observance of the day, over the years, has been through an open day function. However, the government has postponed the open day function to a later date due to the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.

Kaliati said the observance of the day provides an opportunity for member states to recognize the importance of Sign Language for achieving the sustainable development goals and filling the core promise of leaving no one behind.

“The theme reminds us all on the significance of sign language in the growth and development of deaf individuals and the attainment of the international and national development goals.

“More importantly is the principle of ‘living no-one behind’ as we work together to develop our society. For deaf people to meaningfully take part in our community activities, sign language is important as a medium of communication. Without sign language, communities will continue to exclude deaf people,” said the minister.

“As such, my message today to all of us is to work together so that sign language is fully developed for deaf people to enjoy equally all human rights as enshrined in our Republican Constitution and all International human rights Instruments that we subscribed to as a nation,” she added.

Kaliati further stated that for Malawi to achieve full inclusion of the deaf people in her social and economic agenda, there is need to employ sign language interpreters in all places who should be offereing services to the general public such as hospitals, television stations and churches.

The minister emphasized that this is key for deaf people to access information and communication without problems.

It is at this point that Kaliati disclosed that her ministry in conjunction with Malawi National Association for the Deaf (MANAD) is in talks with development partners to support the training of sign language interpreters.

She said her ministry is committed to pushing forward the disability agenda in this country.

“However, for us to achieve this, there is need for collective efforts from all stakeholders. I would therefore want to remind each one of us here that the observance of the day, on its own, cannot address the challenges of Deaf people but most significantly is to accord them equal opportunities and let them participate. As such there is still a lot that needs to be done. The day has given us an opportunity to reflect and it is our task now to take action,” said Kaliati.

In her remarks, the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator to Malawi, Maria Jose Torres,  said sign language is an important tool that allows persons living with hearing difficulties to equally participate in the society.

Torres emphasized that integrating sign language will not only allow persons with disabilities to exploit their unique skills and abilities for the benefit of their lives, but the lives of all Malawians.

“Under article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, sign language is equal in status to spoken languages. The Convention asks us to be as inclusive as possible with sign language. This includes allowing persons living with hearing difficulties to give and receive official communications in the way they choose, including in sign languages,” she said.

“My challenge to all of us is how can this be realized in all levels of education and public communication? Can public news services or the transmission of government messages on the television include a person translating the messages into sign language?” she added.

Torres said the UN has taken up the challenge of this very task inside its own organizations.

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