Language barrier, bane of Ghanaian deaf children

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Education Sign Language
Sign Language workshop

Members of the Ghana National Association of the Deaf (GNAD) have expressed concern about how the lack of sign language interpreter services in schools are blocking many deaf children from accessing basic education in Ghana.

Parents desirous of taking their deaf children to school are compelled, under the circumstances, to hire the services of sign language interpreters, which exert an enormous financial burden on guardians and parents of deaf children.

Mrs Mabel Agyei Adowa, Teacher and Chief Executive Officer, Ultimate Essentials and Cleaning Service, raised the concern about the dire situation during the commemoration of the 2021 International Day of Sign Languages, celebrated on September 23.

The GNAD in collaboration with the National Association of Sign Language Interpreters – Ghana, facilitated the organisation of this year’s event on the theme: “Recognition of Ghanaian sign language, we sign for human rights”.

Addressing participants on, “Coping with the silent world; how do deaf people navigate the system?” Mrs Adowa noted that many deaf children were left out of school while parents were also hopeless about the situation, not knowing how to educate their children.

She appealed to the government to consider, as a matter of urgency, engaging sign language interpreters in public schools and institutions to help reverse the forlorn situation to give equal educational rights to deaf children in Ghana.

Dr Daniel Fobi, Lecturer, Department of Special Education, University of Education, Winneba, highlighted several barriers impeding the development of deaf children and people in Ghana.

He urged for a national action to address the situation to be in line with government commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

He said about 99 per cent of children born to Ghanaian homes have access to spoken language but the rest, one per cent did not have, raising grave concern about their future.

Ghanaian deaf children do not have the opportunity to connect to their environment and access the language of their parents and guardians, throwing them into the social exclusion net and neglect.

He also said deaf children did not have the opportunity to be assessed during examination with the sign language, the language they speak, in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and described it as a worrying phenomenon.

He noted that just about 20 per cent of deaf people who often graduate from BECE have access to senior high school (SHS), while those who gain access to SHS were not allowed to apply for science or business, stating: “They are only allowed to do arts or technical”.

“Some deaf students have to pay their own sign language interpreters,” he said. Because of several societal barriers, many deaf children were not performing well like their hearing colleagues.

Though Dr Fobi commended Ghana for its efforts in having an inclusive education document in 2015, he noted that the policy framework failed to address succinctly the issue of sign language as a national and international commitment.

He also said deaf people were largely excluded in church or religious services, banking, health, and several services rendered by public institutions, saying: “We must remove these barriers”.

“I can say that deaf individuals have negative academic and social experiences, and are performing at levels not comparable to their hearing colleagues,” he emphasised.

He called for a clear policy and recognition of Ghanaian sign language as a national language with the legal backing to compel public institutions to employ the services of interpreters to serve the needs of deaf people.

“Let’s see sign language as issues of a national human right and let’s have a legislation for a Ghanaian sign language, and let’s start with the early years of school,” he added.

Mr Mathew Kubachua, National President of GNAD, said the UN recognised the role sign languages played in national development, hence the needed to deepen global awareness of its importance.

He rallied national support for a Ghanaian sign language, saying, “Ghanaian sign language is for every one and sign language is a human right issue, fundamental for deaf people, it should be accepted in schools and at all public functions.”

Mr Juventus Duorinaah, Executive Director of GNAD, called on the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service to expand access to quality basic and secondary education to many deaf children.

He also asked for the allocation of the newly constructed SHSs to the deaf and to engage qualified sign language interpreters in some SHSs to improve access to inclusive education.

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