Sign language interpreters convey COVID-19 information, bridge gaps in Namibia


by Ndalimpinga Iita

Sign language interpreters in Namibia are bridging gaps by conveying information on COVID-19 to the populace with hearing disabilities.

On national television and virtual platforms, Selma Moses, a sign language interpreter made hand gestures according to the content.

Moses is one of the sign language interpreters helping convey fundamental messages to the otherwise ‘left out’ in society.

She has interpreted for the presidential announcements, the COVID-19 communication center initiated by the Namibian government as well as the weekly COVID-19 update show on the national Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, amongst other platforms.

“Sign language is for everyone. We have done the lobbying and advocacy, we have written several correspondences with the best content aimed at leveling the playing field for the deaf,” she said.

Besides Moses, about eight more interpreters are availed by the Namibian National Association of the Deaf to take turns and transmit spoken words into sign language at the various platforms.

Linekela Paul Nanyeni, the national executive director of the association, said the COVID-19 impacted not only the various spectrum of society but also deepened pre-existing inequalities. Therefore, sign language interpreters are instrumental in the fight against COVID-19 and broadly reducing disparities.

“Amongst others, we focus on awareness-raising to ensure communities are aware of the deaf persons in the country, and reminding the authorities to include the deaf persons in their responsive programs/mechanisms,” he said.

The association also employs synergy. “We engage different stakeholders such as the education and information ministries so that the deaf persons are not left out,” he added.

However, despite progressive efforts, the association faces several challenges. These include the insufficient number of sign language interpreters, which hampers the accessibility of information by the disabled group. For a country of 2.4 million population, there are only nine sign language interpreters, and these are based in the capital of Windhoek.

“We also need both financial and material support to ensure our members are supported and well informed about the COVID-19,” he added.

The association has since shared the global leadership challenge with the office of the Deputy Minister for Disability Affairs to show their solidarity towards the inclusion and support of Namibian sign language. The challenge, issued by the World Federation of the Deaf in 2020 aims to promote the use of sign languages by national, and international leaders in collaboration with national associations of deaf people in each country.

In the meantime, Nanyeni said that the association would continue to lobby for the recognition of Namibian sign language and advocate for inclusivity.

“We need to be practical and be a true example of an inclusive country where everyone counts, where everyone is equal, where every language matters and where every language is on the same par,” he concluded.

As for Moses, her commitment and conviction are that the time to promote inclusivity is now.

“Let’s ensure inclusivity and raise awareness of the importance of sign language in the full realization of the human rights of all people who are deaf,” she said.

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