By Elias Hakizimana
It was a hard journey for Jules Rutayisire to learn as he went through difficult conditions because he struggled to understand lessons that lectures taught him at university as he could not hear. He is deaf.
He was a student at University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics, in the option of Business Information Technology (BI.T) at Huye Campus.
The 26 year-old is now a player in Rwandan Karate Team, and serves as a teacher of Rwandan Sign Language (RSL).
Rutayisire encountered a lot of difficulties during his University schooling as he was the only person with Deaf disability.
Speaking to The Inspirer on Saturday during a one day workshop with local media practitioners, organized by Media for Deaf Rwanda (M4D), Rutayisire shared a brief history of how he managed to cope with the situation.
“The first day entered University, I found myself the only deaf person in the entire community of 60 students in our classroom. The lecturer would come and talk but I could not hear anything. I could only read notes and later manage to look for related information, with support from my colleagues,” he narrates.
He further noted that it was challenging for him to look for information to help him with courses after class as the lecturer used to talk a lot and write just few words while explaining lessons to students.
“But my colleagues could not write everything to me due to limited time they had had. I wished I had got a sign language interpreter but I could not get that service,” he expressed.
What was good, he said, is that, he could read books which helped him in his studies.
Fortunately, he said “I finally got my diploma in 2015, thanks to the Almighty God to accompany me during that hard situation.”
Jeanne Ntigurirwa, an official in Handicap International – Rwanda, said that she had the same hard experience, pointing out and that deaf persons need to access information and utilise their potential as far as their rights are concerned.
“Since 2005 when I joined meetings about people with disabilities — I was in senior five —, I found that they struggle a lot to access information,” she said.
“I wish that deaf people would have same rights at the same level and enjoy same services as people without hearing disability, in education, justice , medical or healthcare as well as other aspects of life,” said Ntigurirwa.
Call for integration of sign language in curriculum
Stressing the need for introduction of sign language in education sector, Rutayisire noted that it will be better to teach sign language to all teachers from primary, secondary and universities and high learning institutions to help the entire community understand the language and get informed.
“We do not wish such a difficult situation [of lacking access to communication and services because of hearing disability] to happen to our younger brothers and sisters who are still at school,” he said.
Indeed, he observed that this development would even create jobs as “a number of youth in Rwanda say they lacked jobs while we need interpreters.”
Furthermore, Rutayisire said that many of deaf persons still fail to get serviced due to lack of effective communication and lacking information.
“I, myself have experienced the case at one of health centers where I had health complications, but, I was not served because of lack of effective communication with healthcare providers,” he said.
According to Kellya Uwiragiye, the Chairperson of Media for Deaf Rwanda, the requested initiative to help deaf people to access information also requires inclusive media that also caters for the special needs of this category of people with disabilities.
“We wish that media practitioners consider persons with deafness when informing the community since these people make part of that community,” Uwiragiye said.
Kellya recommends Radio broadcasters to inform the society about the life of people with such disability in particular and how they can be catered for in terms of education, doing business and various socioeconomic needs.
She also recommends TV broadcasters to reduce words and increase videos or pictures which tell the story.
Journalists speak out
Furgence Hakizuwera, a TV Broadcaster at Royal TV, the local television said that it is quite challenging to most of broadcasting channels to inform people who are unable to hear, the case that he says spur journalists’ action for remedy since they have to inform the entire community.
“We still lose a the audience who are deaf persons as most of local televisions do not have sign language interpreters, hence being unable to serve them effectively” Hakizuwera noted.
According to Aimé Frédéric Rangira, the project manager of Media for Deaf Rwanda, many improvements are being done to ensure positive change in helping deaf persons to access information in the future.
The Integrated Households Living Conditions Survey (EICV4) states that there were over 33,400 deaf persons in Rwanda.