Media activism to follow up and report PWD activities and events
Rwanda has made remarkable steps towards the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities (PWD) in the country over recent years. There is now a strong legal framework for the protection of rights of persons with disabilities in the Constitution, laws for persons with disabilities and the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2008 though not domesticated. The inclusion of disability as a crosscutting issue in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2, which works to achieve inclusive development has been particularly welcomed.
Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD) is a registered National Non- Governmental Organisation established in 1989 by Deaf people devoted to raising awareness of the challenges and needs of Deaf Rwandans and how to address their concerns. It has been advocating for many years for the adoption and use of Rwandan Sign language (RSL) as the primary means of communication for Deaf and Hard of hearing people in Rwanda. RNUD is implementing a one project to Accelerate Deaf youth’s Participation in Disability-Rights Awareness Promotion with support from United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and Rwanda Governance Board.
However, despite the great progress, RNUD has found that many Deaf people experience stigma from birth and are prone to exclusion, concealment, and abandonment. Low awareness of PWD rights and responsibilities amongst Deaf people and the communities: – RNUD’s experience while working on the Deaf Rights Fund-funded project, they observed that the majority of Deaf people are not aware of their rights. For example the majority of Deaf people in Rwanda are aged between 15 and 35 years and do not know about their human rights, the existing laws in the country through which to demand for their rights, hence they are not included in development programmes especially in the decentralization approach. There are virtually no community networks of PWDs or those that involve PWDs in promoting the awareness of PWD rights.
Low awareness of PWD rights amongst Leaders and Duty bearers: – local leaders and service providers are equally not aware of the legislations pertaining to persons with disabilities in Rwanda. As such, they do not observe the rights-based approach which is important in service provision, legal protection and in empowering Deaf people and other PWDs in ensuring there active participation. This perpetuates the poor social inclusion of the PWDs in the community, district and national level decision making processes. RNUD conducted a study in 7 districts of Rwanda in 2014, and it identified a number of challenges encountered by Deaf and Hard of hearing people in communicating with service providers, local leaders and the community. Deaf and Hard of hearing people struggle to obtain information about social services provided by government and private institutions in their respective communities.
It is unclear as to whether there is a systematic way to ensure that private and public institutions are aware and fulfilling their obligations to make their information and services accessible to Deaf People. Whilst the mainstreaming guidance from the National Council of Persons with Disabilities includes information about improving accessibility, awareness of mainstreaming and implementation remains low.
Significant progress has been made in tackling stigma and discrimination towards persons with disabilities in Rwanda. However people with disabilities still encounter disrespectful language, especially amongst the deaf community – in some instances this can come from service providers. It is important that this tackled Respectful language.
Despite the developments with Rwandan Sign Language (RSL), most Deaf and Hard of hearing people are currently unable to access quality information or social services and remain incapable of individually expressing their needs. Consequently the social-economic situation for Deaf people in Rwanda is extremely challenging and difficult. Many live in extreme poverty due to lack of awareness of the social services available to them and are unable to access them through their appropriate language.
Rwandan Sign language is a comprehensive language, which involves not only Gestures, but Paralinguistic, Body Language, Posture, Proxemics, Eye Gaze, Haptics, Facial Expression. It has its own complete grammar just like the spoken languages (i.e. Kinyarwanda and English). According to RNUD gestures are limited to the deliberate movements of hands, including waving, pointing, and using fingers to indicate numeric amounts which consequently represents only one element of the language.
Deaf people struggle to access information given out to the public on television due to a lack of sign language interpretations. Whilst it is encouraging and much appreciated that there is now sign language interpretation on the daily news for 30 minutes, much more could be done to make broadcasting more accessible. Many Deaf and hard of hearing people are missing out of public discussions, announcements and debates broadcast. By not being able to access information, Deaf people are not empowered to participate in social and economic activities in the country. Most services and public places such districts, sectors and cell offices, health centers are not as accessible to Deaf people. There are no sign language interpreters and the knowledge and use of sign language by service providers is virtually non-existent. Consequently, there is a huge communication gap between Deaf people and services providers, meaning that Deaf people cannot adequately access services and information and are not empowered in social and economic development.
Currently most Deaf children do not receive education, in violation of their rights as protected in the UNCRPD and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The denial of access to quality education also means many Deaf children are denied their mother tongue of Rwandan Sign Language (RSL) thus rendering them illiterate within their respective communities without any means of effective communication. Consequently, they live lives of marginalization and disenfranchisement and denied full and equal participation in all aspects of life, including human rights such as freedom of expression and access to information.
RNUD would like to see the shift in the four core values of Human rights that are especially relevant in the context of disability. Dignity: respect of physical and moral integrity of the person. Autonomy: capacity for self-directed action, decision and behaviour. Equality: prohibition of discrimination. Solidarity: collaboration, support. Everybody has the same rights and should have the same access to their rights.