By Kanamugire Emmanuel
Persons with deaf-blindness in Rwanda want to be recognized as a distinct disability category as one of the steps to address their social problems.
These are some of the highlights of a joint meeting in Kigali on November, 25, 2020, that has brought together members of the Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-blindness (ROPDB) and various institutions such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the National Council of Persons with Disabilities, LODA, Parliament, NUDOR among others and partners in order to discuss about possible solutions to problems of this category of Rwandan population.
Statistics released by the 2012 census show that there were about 57,000 blind and 33,000 deaf people in Rwanda, while the number of people with combined disabilities has not been found because the category was not there, according to the National Institute of Statistics in Rwanda, NISR.
The fact that the number of people with this disability is unknown is due to the fact that there is no category for them, which is a major obstacle to solving the problems they face in their daily lives, ROPDB chairperson, Furaha Jean Marie has explained.
“We want the recognition of the category of Persons with Deaf-blindness in Rwanda, which will help us to advocate in a special way and wherever we’ll go to address our concerns will be quickly heard,” he said.
“The Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-blindness was founded to remove the barriers of people in this category, who have never been to schools. That is the serious challenge to us. Another problem we face is that we are not able to communicate with our families as most of us do not know tactile sign language” he added.
Mukarwego Umuhoza Immaculée, from LODA, said that this category of people was not considered as a special one and the unavailability of its statistics affects the social protection program; some could not be helped because they were unknown.
Dr Donatille Kanimba, Executive Director of the Rwanda Union of the Blind, also stressed the need for this category to be taken into consideration to support everyone depending on his or her disability type and needs.
“This is a disability that leads to extreme loneliness. When a child is sick the mother cannot know the problem the child has due to communication barriers. We, as people with visual impairments, are saddened because some of our friends are not being helped and yet we want everyone to have the same rights as other Rwandans”, Dr Kanimba said.
MP Mussolini Eugene assured the ROPDB continuous advocacy so that deaf-blindness be recognized as a disability category itself.
He said: “The existence of this category of disability is very important, I noted that, together we’ll continue to reach different institutions advocating for its recognition.”
Deaf-blindness is varying degrees or progressive lost of sight and hearing, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other development and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.
The main challenges of persons with deaf-blindness in Rwanda include communication barrier as most of them even the communities around them do not know tactile sign language; lack of special schools for them, stigmatization in some families; poor mindset of communities and decisionmakers on deaf-blindness; many deafblind having other disabilities.
The Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-Blindness (ROPDB) was founded in 2018 with a vision to create an environment where deaf-blind people access all rights, receive rehabilitation and basic education and promote their welfare as other citizens. So far, only 167 people with deaf-blindness have been identified countrywide.
Recently, Rwanda has ratified the Marrakesh Treaty, linked to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which ensures the right to inclusive education for children with disabilities in its Article 24.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, provides for the exchange of accessible-format books across international borders by organizations that serve people who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled.