First digital dictionary for students with hearing impairment launched

People with deafness from Dar es Salaam and Coast regions demonstrate at Bwawani grounds in Maili Moja, Kibaha District, to mark the International Day of the Deaf. Recently, Tanzania launched the first digital dictionary and curricula that will be handy in teaching sign language to members of the community for easy integration of the deaf in daily activities. PHOTO | FILE

This is the past. Imagine a child at a mainstream school where s/he is the only one with the hearing problem. And, in that school, only one teacher is able to understand that language. Imagine the loneliness and worse when the other students stigmatize him/her! For those with hearing impairments, it was very uncommon joining mainstream schools.

If a family of 10 has one member with the hearing problem, then learning sign language was love and acceptance. We are talking about a time when sign language was considered to be odd, and mainly important for those with hearing disability to communicate among and between themselves.

Language empowers or dis empowers. There was a time when it was hard to come across people with such problems being empowered.

According to Chama cha Viziwi Tanzania (Chavita), Kiswahili for ‘The Tanzania Association of the Deaf (TAD)’ “deaf people in Tanzania are often isolated and stigmatized within their communities and as a result they tend to be among the poorest,” and are often “denied the right to use their own language.”

It was like that for a long time, but now some things have changed for the better. Overtime, Chavita and other advocacy groups have built an empowered and well informed deaf community, something that has paid off.

Studies show that, back in 2014, the sign language was accepted as the language of instruction for children with hearing disabilities in Tanzania. Fast forward on September 23, 2020 as Tanzania joined the international community to celebrate the International Day of Sign Languages, the sign language in dear motherland became a possibility for everyone.

The launch of the first digital dictionary for the sign language on September 26, 2020 to mark the day is a huge milestone in education development. The vital document, which uses the sign language in Kiswahili and English, will go a long way in helping integrate students with hearing disability into the mainstream schools.

Also launched with the first digital dictionary for sign languages, was a Curriculum Implementation Guide for secondary school students with hearing disabilities. The two moves are huge milestones for Tanzania in the quest for inclusive education. This means a lot! Students with hearing impairments will now have hope of a bright future, as they can even join mainstream schools.

The theme for 2020 International Day of Sign Languages was “Sign Languages Are for Everyone!” What the Ministry of Education has done, with the publication of this document, is to make the sign language accessible in Tanzania so that more people would learn it .

People in the public service, the media, and the community at large need to be able to understand the sign language used by people with hearing impairments so that communication with them becomes effective when they seek services. The best way out is for as many people as possible to learn the sign language as recommended by the UN.

A good number of mainstream media (TV), especially during the reading of news bulletins, have been exemplary in taking care about the needs of those with the hearing impairments as they tend to have a sign language interpreter. This needs to be adopted by online media providing news services and so on. At the education level, the curriculum implementation guide for the secondary school students with hearing impairments is a great move.

Hopefully, many mainstream school teachers can volunteer to learn about it, so that the communication needs of the people with hearing impairments can be met. More importantly, it’s vital for the nation to ensure that hearing impaired people are able to access the new digital dictionary. It might be life changing opportunity for many.