Why rising number of deaf in Kenya calls for quick action


Kenyans on the streets last month on the international day of the deaf. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Impairment in hearing has risen in the past two decades, with data now showing that one out of every 10 people suffer from the problem.

Some 20 years ago, hearing problems were estimated to affect between five and eight people out of every 100 Kenyans, or less than one in every 10.

It means that even as the International Week of the Deaf was marked last month to raise awareness on the disability, there was mostly bad news to report for Kenya.

The data was compiled by the Kenya National Special Needs Education survey commissioned in 2014 by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO Kenya) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.

Kenyans more afflicted

The data shows Kenyans are more afflicted by hearing loss compared to the global average of five people with hearing difficulties in every 100, based on statistics from the World Health organisation (WHO).

The world health body says that 360 million people have disabling hearing loss globally, out of of whom 328 million are adults while 32 million are children.

The Kenya National Survey on Deafness conducted in 1995 in 30 districts reported that between five and eight per cent of the population have hearing impairment.

However, the causes of the increase in hearing loss are unclear.

Besides showing that deafness has increased, the latest survey also found out that 49 per cent of those with hearing impairment are men while 51 per cent are female, indicating that there are hardly gender differentials on the matter.

deaf graphic

Countries that recognise sign language. GRAPHIC | BD

Residence matters

But residence matters. The survey adds that 63 per cent of hearing impairment incidents are in rural areas while 37 per cent are in urban areas.

The survey by VSO Kenya and the Education ministry indicates that there exists a big gap in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) performance between deaf children and their counterparts with proper hearing.

For instance, most deaf children score as low as 100 marks out of 500.

One of the reasons cited for this dismal performance is that parents are less bothered about the performance of deaf children in school.

The number of deaf graduates in the country is also remarkably low.

“There is only one PhD deaf graduate, less than eight with a master’s degree and close to 30 undergraduates,’’ says Rose Nyagwoka, programme officer, Deaf Child Worldwide.

This year’s International Week of the Deaf (September 18-24) was marked with the theme “Full Inclusion with Sign Language”.

This was meant to impress upon the world that full inclusion of deaf people in the mainstream global activities is possible when Sign Language is recognised and used widely.

Main focus

Sign Language is also the main focus during the 3rd International Conference of the Deaf scheduled for November 8-10 in Budapest, Hungary.

This highlights the prominence of deaf concerns in the global front.

The 2010 Constitution recognises Sign Language as a language for the deaf, an indigenous language and one of the languages of Parliament.

In Kenya, People with Disability Act 2003 requires all public broadcasting stations to incorporate Sign Language in their television programmes including news, talk shows, documentaries and educational programmes.
In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to a law that paved way for the incorporation of sign language in television programmes, especially news.

Approximately 193 developed and developing countries like Australia, Algeria, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania among others have been able to incorporate their sign languages in television broadcasts as a way of ensuring access to information by the deaf.

This move is aimed at enabling the deaf to get the same information with the rest of the society.