The hearing-impaired are among the most marginalised group in Kenya.
They are often ignored, misunderstood and forgotten. Some parents hide their deaf children at home without access to vital education, play and social interaction.
This is mainly due to stigma or a bid to bypass the government requirement for all children to attend school.
Many children in deaf schools have been rejected by their parents because the latter don’t know how to communicate with them. But even those who manage to get an education are discriminated against.
Cases of hearing impairment have increased over the past two decades.
The 2009 census put the number of people living with disabilities at 1,330,312, or 3.5 per cent of the population with 366,811 deaf and 236,491 having a speech disability.
The government’s measures to ensure non-discrimination against persons living with disabilities includes enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003.
Among other tasks, the Act established the National Council for Persons with Disabilities to spearhead activities that enable inclusion of the disabled.
Besides other requirements, a law signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2015 requires public broadcasters to incorporate sign language in their television programmes to enable the deaf to get the same information as the rest of the audience.
Besides, many public and private institutions mainstream disability-related issues as an integral part of their management policy, including employment and human resource development.
But many are not sufficiently prepared to handle deaf cases for they do not know how to use Sign Language to communicate with the deaf.
Officials also cannot help the deaf to communicate and have to get an interpreter for that.
The deaf, like their hearing counterparts, need access to the larger society. They have hopes and dreams.
They need to access public facilities and services.
Institutions must participate in the transformation of their community to understand the deaf so that they can improve their lives realistically.
One way of reducing social discrimination of the deaf is by equipping their hearing counterparts with linguistic know-how — particularly how to use Kenya Sign Language, which many Kenyans lack.
Training their hearing counterparts on the language could open up the world of the deaf and the former in many ways.
For the latter, it could transform their worldview. They could pay more attention and show more care to the deaf. They can also be involved in reflective sharing about the reality of their lives and become agents of change both in their spiritual and social life.
The deaf could access information which oftentimes eludes them due to the communication barrier and hence the larger society.
Besides the deaf being able to realise their dreams, the training could reduce social discrimination.