President Lazarus Chakwera has decried the country’s failure to promote sign language which he described as a human right and pledged to invest in initiatives aimed at promoting the same.
The President said this yesterday in Lilongwe during the commemoration of the International Day of Sign Languages which the Malawi National Association of the Deaf (Manad) organised under the theme We Sign for Human Rights. The event took place at Bingu International Convention Centre.
Chakwera said: “In this new Malawi, we want the use of sign language to be adopted everywhere, for every function and by every institution.
“I know that over the years, the implementation of policies that make government institutions and services accessible and user friendly to people with hearing impairments has left a lot to be desired.
“Examples of this failure are clear and present in every sector, including in our schools, our health facilities, our markets, our points of entry, our media, our financial institutions, and our places of work.”
Sign language is a communication system where visual gestures and signs are used to communicate with people that have hearing challenges.
The President called for mindset change towards the language which he said benefits deaf people. There are about 400 000 deaf people in the country, according to Manad.
The President pledged to allocate funds in the next national budget for the promotion of sign language.
“It is because of this commitment that our 2022/23 National Budget will include resources for specialist and sign language training, for the establishment of more resource centres, and for renovating existing resource centres,” he said.
Manad chairperson Stephano Maneya decried the lack of sign language use among public service providers.
He said: “In Malawi, we have a big challenge because in different places where people go to seek for services, especially in public places, there is no availability of sign language services.”
To address the challenge, Maneya said they have developed a sign language dictionary expected to help the public to “learn the language and be able to communicate with the deaf”.
A person with hearing challenges, Malonje Phiri, narrated his personal experience. He used the event to outline challenges facing the deaf in accessing education.
He explained that throughout his secondary school, he did not have a specialist sign language teacher.
But Phiri said that through hard work, he was selected to Chancellor College, then a constituent college of the University of Malawi.
However, he said that due to lack of sign language services at the institution, he was asked to wait for three years before enrolling.
“After all those years of waiting, I thought that life would be better, but I only discovered that the environment was not conducive as the services for the deaf were not in place,” Phiri said.
Now a holder of a master’s degree obtained from a Scottish university, Phiri, works for Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi.
He asked the government to invest more in education for people with hearing difficulties.
The International Day of Sign Languages, proclaimed by the United Nations, falls on September 23 every year. However, Manad said it failed to organise the commemorations on time due to other challenges.