February 22, 2011
There are an estimated hundreds of thousands of Deafblind people around the world. There is no accurate estimate, developing countries are slow to census this focus group or comprehend that it is possible to educate a person with a secondary disability. Developed countries like America, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Africa have noted organizations that aid Deafblind people. It is largely due to their financial strength and a higher political and social understanding of human rights. Nepal is currently working on revising their Constitution to satisfy their agreement with the United Nations Convention of Rights for People with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This country has finalized signature on the last of the 4 Ratifications in May of 2010, so this means the government must act. A glimmer of hope for the Deafblind, who have long been neglected by society, education and politics, to be included in the list of disability groups that already receive aid or attention. Proof of this is when the National Federation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NFDH) of Kathmandu invited me to speak at a conference that attracted different disability organizations and two high-ranking government officials. Deaf Women’s Rights, National Association for the Blind, National Federation of the Disabled in Nepal and the National Association of Physical Disabilities Nepal were a few of the consistuents at the conference.
I sat beside Pratigya, my “at the moment” Deaf tactile interpreter, and my hand listened to his while he copied the signing interpreters who stood in the distance relaying what people were voicing on the microphone. After a series of lectures by the constituents aimed at the two government officials, I was given my turn to speak. Interpreters had their eyes on me, as well as the rest of the people. Hearing blind people turned their ears towards the voice interpreters, and the Deaf looked at me directly. I had the full intent of signing in Nepali Sign Language fluently.
I started off introducing myself, where I was raised, how I was schooled, where I completed my university degree, and how my journey of advocacy began in Africa and what brought me to Nepal. I told them the story of two Deafblind in Patan, the children of Naxal and then dropped them with a bomb: in the valley of Pokhara, there are 214 Deafblind people, according to a CBR report done 10 years ago. With the estimate of 2,000 Deafblind scattered around Nepal, I asked them the important question: why was very, very little done to help the Deafblind, who were statiscally discovered 10 years ago, by the government? Naxal School for the Deaf’s Deafblind classroom is closed after 5 years of NGO funding, and it’s doors are closed forever unless the government steps in. I recommended these changes to the constitution:
– Include funding for the Deafblind Program under a section of the Naxal Deaf School’s fiscal budget;
– Require that teachers for the Deafblind be fluent in sign language and literate in Braille;
– A new curriculum be penned under the Nepal Education Standards for Deafblind Education so that other Deaf schools in Nepal can open their own program;
– Give their official support for the Nepal Deafblind Project;
– Secure public relations funding for a specific campaign between the Deaf, Deafblind and Blind groups tp promote their abilities (think: sign language; tactile and cane use; workforce and communication);
– Include the term “Deafblind” in their Constitution along with Deaf, Physically Disabled, Blind, and so on.
After my 15 minutes of educating the government officials and everyone else, I glanced over at the interpreters and they gave me a thumbs up. Hopefully they caught everything I said, because, darn it, it’s very important that the officials understand how grave the situation for Deafblind is. Roughly 10% or less Deafblind are literate, meaning the rest of the DB population has no literacy, and more so, no interaction with the outside world with means of sign language communication. Imagine the isolation and emotional impact?
The situation in Nepal and neligient actions towards the Deafblind really saddens me, but it is also the match to my fire, my passion. Nothing motivates me more than seeing the results of a collective agreement that even the Deafblind deserve education, independence, literacy and communication. They are humans, too, and have rights just like everybody else. Let’s just hope the government officials have had their fire re-ignited too.