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March 26, 2004

Deaf people call for end to prejudice

From: The Star (subscriptioin), South Africa - Mar 26, 2004

By Moloantoa Mosia

Deaf people are as normal as hearing people and are certainly not stupid. This was the strong message from St Vincent School for the Deaf grade 10 pupils as they asked hearing people to stop discriminating against them.

The message followed an article in The Star about Michael Swartz, an 11-year-old boy who took first place in the category of child rider 12 years and under at the Eastern Cape Regional Horseriding Championships for Welsh ponies, in which he was described as being deaf and dumb.

"We are being discriminated against in all spheres of life. Because some of us cannot complete words when we talk, some hearing people regard us as monkeys," said Dineo Lekola (17), one of the pupils.

She said the main challenge many deaf children were facing at home was communicating with their parents.

Lekola challenged parents of deaf children to learn sign language so that they would have no difficulty in reaching out to their children. She cited sex education as an example.

According to Lekola, some parents did not communicate information on sexuality well to their children because of the language barrier. This left deaf children without information and susceptible to all kinds of diseases.

Grade 10 teacher Angela Lindsay confirmed that deaf people took strong exception to being called deaf and dumb. She said discrimination against this group took place in various forms.

According to Lindsay, there was not enough infrastructure to cater for the needs of deaf people.

She cited the example of former St Vincent School student Kim Gibbons, a fourth-year teaching student, who was accepted at Technikon Witwatersrand and was made to find her own interpreter, for whom she had to pay herself.

Lindsay said access to tertiary institutions was not easy for deaf people. Even if they found jobs, they battled to communicate with their bosses, she said.

In acknowledging these language barriers, the Departments of Health and Education, in a joint venture with the European Union, last week launched educational videos on life skills and HIV/Aids education for deaf people at the Eldorado Park Community Centre.

Addressing attendees at the launch, Education Minister Kader Asmal said: "These learning materials aim to strengthen the children not only by giving them accurate and valuable information for their own protection, but also courage and the voice to break the silence about abuse of learners in our own communities."

©2004 The Star. All rights reserved.