Effective communication support for persons with Deaf-Blindeness in Rwanda

Francine UWAYISABA

Persons with deaf-blindness may have difficulty accessing information due to their sensory impairments. They always struggle to understand spoken language, facial expressions, or gestures, making it difficult to interact with family members, friends, and community members. The only language to communicate is tactile which is rarely known in the society. Simply, they live their own world, talk with themselves.

In Rwanda and even globally, many people think this type of disability does not exist or it’s rare to find a person with the disability, but there are many of them who have the challenge of communication.

FURAHA Jean Marie, is a Fifty- six years old man with deaf-blindness who was born deaf but became blind in 2016. He said the major challenge that any person with deaf- blindness faces is communication because only few people know tactile language.

“As we know, communication allows individuals to articulate their needs, desires, and feelings. Whether it’s in personal relationships, at work, or in social settings, clear communication helps ensure that your intentions are understood. Communication fosters the development of meaningful relationships.

Through conversations, sharing experiences, and listening, people bond, form friendships, and establish trust but, it seems like it does not belong to persons with deaf-blindness. We mainly have intra-communication which impact us negatively in every angle of life like access to quality educational, health services and meaningful employment opportunities,” Marie explained.

Figure 1: Furaha Jean Marie, a man with deaf-blindness

Naomy UWIZEYIMANA a young lady with deaf-blindness also shares her experience of challenges faced by persons with deaf-blindness particularly as a woman. “” First of all, we are always dependent to someone else in order to communicate, so, this dependence impact our sense of autonomy, privacy and independence.

Accessing healthcare services is particularly challenging women with deaf-blindness due to communication barriers because you reach to the hospital and find no one to help you express your needs, diagnosing your illness, communicating symptoms to healthcare providers. If you are pregnant, they only know it when the baby has already grown. It is difficult to know how you will take your medicine as you cannot see or hear while service providers do not know tactile language”.

Figure 2: Naomy UWIZEYIMANA, a young lady with deaf-blindness

Naomy added that due to poor communication, women with deaf-blindness are at risk because at any time an incident of violence or abuse, whether sexually or physically can happen without anyone’s concern. At this time, another communication case occurs trying to find justice because they sometimes are unable to explain what happened or showing the evidence as they neither can see who abused them nor speak. “To protect these women or girls, there should always be another person who may look after them to avoid this kind of violations. This is where sometimes impatient family members start to think that you are a burden to them because you prevent someone from working just to protect you”.

Joseph MUSABYIMANA is Executive Director of Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-Blindness. He said that Communication provides an outlet for expressing emotions and seeking support. Whether it’s sharing joys, expressing concerns, or seeking comfort during difficult times, communication plays a vital role in emotional well-being and personal feelings, but persons with deaf blindness, a newly type of disability are still struggling for this right to effective communication. He said that many of persons with deaf-blindness are illiterate and it is hard for them to know braille and common tactile languages.

Figure 3: Joseph MUSABYIMANA Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-Blindness Executive Director

To address this challenge, Joseph said that providing training and education to both persons with deaf-blindness and their caregivers on effective communication techniques is essential.

This may include teaching tactile sign language, braille literacy, and alternative communication methods such as tactile signing, hand-under-hand guidance, and haptic communication. In addition, ensuring access to assistive technology devices and communication aids can greatly enhance the communication abilities of persons with deaf-blindness and creating sensory environments that cater to the needs of persons with deaf-blindness can facilitate communication and interaction.

Joseph also said that increasing awareness and understanding of deaf-blindness within the community can help reduce stigma and barriers to communication.

This may involve organizing awareness campaigns, workshops, and training sessions for the general public, service providers, and employers and training and employing qualified tactile sign language interpreters who are proficient in communicating with persons who are deaf-blind can facilitate communication in various settings, including education, healthcare, and social interactions

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