NWU rolls up its sleeves for the deaf

Johan Van Zyl -- Wed, 06/22/2016 - 08:11

NWU rolls up its sleeves for the deaf

Most of us are normal. We can hear, see, walk and feel. This is such a matter of course that we do not even think about being different – until we come across someone who is not as fortunate as we are. Someone such as a deaf person. Someone who is caught up only in his own thoughts – all day long, every day.

Some became deaf because of an illness or an accident, others were born deaf – maybe a blessing for them, some say ... No, because we cannot imagine what it must be like not to hear a single sound.

Patric Otemba is a 15-year-old deaf boy from Uganda who has never had the opportunity to learn to communicate in a unique special way. Sign language training was something that many in Patrick’s community had never even heard of ...

The North-West University, in cooperation with the Development Institute for the Deaf and the Blind, rolled up their sleeves to make a real difference in the lives of people such as Patrick. More than four million people in South Africa are deaf or hard of hearing ... A silent multitude ... “We want to create the opportunity to acquire effective communication through the means of sign language. It is our responsibility to move the borders of the locked world of the deaf,” says Prof Wannie Carstens, Director of the School of Languages at the North-West University.

A conference to identify and implement an academic turnaround strategy for the deaf will be held at the NWU’s Potchefstroom Campus on Friday 24 June and Saturday 25 June. Several role players will be present to, inter alia, share experiences, identify needs in the tertiary sector in particular, find out what the Department of Education can do to offer more opportunities to the deaf and what a newly proposed academic model will entail.

“Deaf people are regarded as the most disadvantaged of all disability groups. They have the same potential as ‘normal’ hearing people but in South Africa they have always been marginalised within the education system and society. This is where we want to make a difference,” says Carstens.

Further and higher education institutions, such as TVET colleges and universities, are designed for normal hearing students and therefore these institutions are inaccessible to deaf students. Deaf students need an environment with sign language as medium of instruction. There are fewer than 30 deaf graduates in South Africa and no deaf social workers or deaf psychologists because universities are simply not accessible to the deaf and, in addition, Sign Language is not an approved subject for university admission. This has led to a scenario where deaf learners could only pass one language in Grade 12 which results in an endorsed Grade 12 certificate without university exemption.

To contribute to the achievement of a workable academic turnaround strategy for the deaf in South Africa, more details about the conference can be requested from Wannie Carstens. Contact him at wannie.carstens@nwu.ac.za.

*Video: Channel 4