1.1 m Ugandans want sign-language-literate medical professionals, and they are sueing for it

Sign language in Uganda
Picture from UNAD’s website

Out of a population of over 36 million, 1.1 million of them are persons with hearing disability, going by Uganda’s 2014 national population census.

However, despite this and the many legal safe guards entailed in a myriad of provisions in the country’s constitution particularly the Disability Act 2006, there has been little progress made in easing access for persons with disability (PWD) to health services in Uganda.

It is this state of affairs that has now forced the PWD, under their umbrella organisation – Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD), – to opt for litigation as a means of getting the conserned government ministries to act in their interest.

This Tuesday 15 August the UNAD filed a petition against the Attorney General to compel the government ministries of health, and that of gender to have them provide sign language interpreters in health facilities, according to a New vision story, a national daily.

In their application, as reported by the daily, the persons with disability (PWD) decried the treatment they get when they visit health facilities.

Health professionals relay on relatives of the PWD clients who accompany them at visits, something the latter say violates their right to privacy as confidential information is passed through relatives or third parties.

Hiring a sign language expert is expensive for most. Not many can afford it.

Now they want the conserned ministries to impliment provisions in the various sections of the constitution.

Among their long list of demands is that sign language gets incorporated in the educational curriculum of health workers.

They hope their petition will lead to tangible improvements in the delivery of medical services to the 1.1 million persons with disability, and in this case the deaf.

This comes on the heels of a two year partnership between UNAD and Stockholm University to create an online digital tutorial that members of the public – including doctors, nurses, social workers – can use to learn sign language and better communicate with the deaf.

As the petition awaits to land on a judge’s desk, by the time the story was filed; the petitioners can only hope their concerns get addressed sooner rather than later. Their health might depend on it.

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