Sign language gets boost after Senate approves Bill


Chelsea Sinyo, 18, communicating using sign language with Justus Kimilu during an interview at MKU in Thika on October 28, 2021. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

It will soon be compulsory for all government institutions including parastatals, the Judiciary and schools to provide for the use of sign language in all public places after the Senate approved a new Bill.

If the proposed law is approved by the National Assembly as passed by the Senate, sign language will become the third official language after Kiswahili and English and will be used in all government offices, schools and courts.

The Kenyan Sign Language Bill of 2021 seeks to ensure that deaf learners are given the same opportunities as all other learners to be productive members of society.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education shall ensure that deaf learners and learners who are hard of hearing are taught in a manner which they are able to understand and use the dominant language of instruction in the education system,” the Bill states.

This means that the Kenyan sign language will be offered as a discipline of study in institutions of basic education, technical and vocational training institutions, public colleges and public universities

If assented to law, it means sign language will be the third compulsory language to be taught in schools after Kiswahili and English.

Senators voted at a special sitting on Tuesday evening to approve the Bill through its third reading.

The Bill, which will be forwarded to the National Assembly for concurrence, seeks to end barriers faced by deaf learners.

“The principal objective of this Bill is to provide for the use of sign language in judicial proceedings, schools and public institutions to ensure that deaf learners are given the same opportunities as all other learners to be productive members of the society,” states part of the proposed law.

quality education

The Bill gives effect to Article 54(1) (d) of the Constitution which provides that a person with any disability is entitled to use sign language, Braille or other appropriate means of communication.

“The objects of this Bill are to promote access to quality education by learners who are deaf or hard of hearing,” the proposed law states.

The Bill’s co-sponsors, Senators Gertrude Museruve (Nominated) and Margaret Kamar (Uasin Gishu) said the Constitution contemplates that public institutions shall put in place facilities to ensure the inclusion of deaf persons and those with difficulty in hearing.

The Bill also seeks to provide the use of sign language in legal proceedings.

The Bill defines Kenya sign language to mean sign language predominantly used in Kenya by the deaf community.

“Sign language means a system of communication, both visual and tactile, as the case may be, by manual signs or symbols including body movement,” the Bill states.

sufficient competence

The Bill also mandates the Cabinet secretary for Education to ensure that teachers of deaf children assist learners to acquire sufficient competence in the use of the English and Kiswahili, including ensuring that Kenya sign language is taught in sign form and not written form.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education shall ensure that institutions offering teaching training offer, as part of their curriculum, courses on Kenya sign language and interpretation.”

According to the 2019 census, about 900,000 or 2.2 percent of the 47.6 million Kenyans live with some form of disability.

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