My love for Deaf people stems from childhood; my father had a Deaf man as an employee who always intrigued me. I remember he was illiterate but would somehow pantomime to communicate. I never understood all he would try to say, but somehow we were friends. As I grew up, remembering him after his death propelled me to know more about Deaf people. My dream came true; I love Deaf people and their mode of communication. It is unique! However, since I started working with the Deaf community, it became stone-clear to me that it is the least known form of impairment; not so many people know who a Deaf person is. The general knowledge they possess is the Deaf are 'daft', so sign language is such a wonder to them. Awareness on the DEAF and SIGN LANGUAGE as their mode of communication has not taken place, and this has presented a lot of impediments.
The Deaf are a marginalized, vulnerable community whose needs are unknown, and are experiencing health problems, legal/Human Rights neglect, educational barriers, and socio-economic setbacks. They are highly vulnerable to especially HIV infection, including other sexually transmitted diseases. They lack information on general health care, and this has sadly given rise to uninformed health choices resulting in HIV/AIDS/STIs infections/re-infections, among other health problems. These situations are pegged on extremely low awareness attributed to lack of deaf-friendly health curriculum, lack of access to services on sexual health/HIV/AIDS, legal/human rights as professionals are overwhelmed by the pandemic to focus on marginalized groups such as them, and the lack of resources to seek timely and appropriate medical care, among other services. Overall there is communication breakdown between the Deaf and mainstream society.
HIV/AIDS was declared a national disaster in Kenya and all measures were beefed up to curb the situation; as awareness campaigns go on in such big magnitudes, technological preventive measures put in place, support levels accelerated, HIV vaccine sort after, etc, the Deaf people are neglected, yet they are part of over 300 lives affected by the virus daily, part of over 500 lives lost everyday to HIV/AIDS, part of 2 million persons living with the virus, part of over 25% not receiving ARVs, and part of the over 1 million HIV-orphaned children, in Kenya. Everyday I meet a Deaf person, discussing HIV/AIDS is as if talking about Malaria; they have gotten used to being neglected that they scarcely take the pandemic as a serious issue. Quite a number of them know of persons who have died of a 'thinning' disease; the stigma is obvious, but there are no skills and/or knowledge to forestall the situation.
More needs to be done NOW to enhance awareness, prevention, support levels and participatory skills of the Deaf communities towards informed choices on sexual health. Though the general society is many steps ahead, the Deaf community must catch up to rest and be counted, with dignity; they have the right to access Deaf-friendly information and services; they are our children, they are our brothers and sisters. We cannot claim to fight diseases, illiteracy, and poverty in society, while some communities are still on the periphery.
I am proud to be part of this determination in teaming up with my fellow concerned friends; our hopes for Deaf community’s betterment are renewed daily by their zest for life, despite the setbacks they face. I am grateful to all those who give of their time, plans, and resources to ensure the Deaf community takes a little step further in the battle against HIV/AIDS, and other aspects of sexual health. Though we are small among the big, our resolve is more strengthened, and we look forward to teaming up with the 'big' to create a more Deaf-friendly environment for the Deaf people! Please join us too, in whichever way you can, in giving Deaf people a better place in society!