By N. Jean de Dieu
Organizations fighting for the rights of Persons with disabilities in Rwanda have once again shown the tangible reasons for requesting the government to treat persons with Deafblindness as a special category because they are at risk of many challenges that continue to hinder them from benefiting from various programs.
Deafblindness is a combination of sight and hearing loss that affects a person’s ability to communicate, access information and get around. This form of disability highly affects the conditions of living because they do not find required support to live in the Rwandan society due to this type of disability.
Despite effort made in advocating for their rights, there is still a big gap in how they are considered in the society.
The Executive Director of Rwanda Organization of Persons with deaf Blindness (ROPDB) Mr. Joseph MUSABYIMANA highlighted the situation of persons with deaf blindness in Rwanda noting that some of the major problems that this specific category faces are that they have never attended schools, they are left behind in different programs that are designed to uplift the economic capacities of poor and vulnerable families, they lack professional communication facilities, they meet public transport difficulties, isolation, stigma and discrimination, interpersonal relationships difficulties among others.
Mr. Musabyimana said that what they need most is for the Government to recognize their specific needs and their inclusion as special category in the government programmes aiming at supporting the economic development of the population.
It is the reason why Rwanda Organization of Persons with deaf Blindness (ROPDB) organized a round table workshop to discuss the inclusion of people with Deaf Blindness in existing programmes and the challenges that they are facing in the community.
The workshop which took place in Kigali on Thursday, 16th March 2023 brought together various partners including the National Human Rights Commission representatives and other civil society organizations.
In his remarks, the Chairperson of ROPDB Mr. Herman BAMBANZE requested participants to provide exchanges that will enable the required support for the persons with Deafblindness adding that this category has to be understood as it has unique needs in terms of laws for social protection, services such as education, health and so many others.
Looking back to the origin of the idea for establishment of the Rwanda Organization of Persons with deaf Blindness (ROPDB), NUDOR President Dr. MUKARWEGO Beth Nasiforo said that the outreach research about their situation was conducted in three pilot districts and the number of persons with Deaf blindness who have been identified in these districts was more than 300 among them 60% are children and 40% being adults.
After their identification, three organizations of persons with disabilities joined efforts to uplift the capabilities of these people with deaf blindness. These include the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB), Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD) and Rwanda National Association of Deaf Women (RNADW). They realized that in their work they come across persons with the dual disability of Deafness and Blindness that led to the hard difficulties to serve them because at sometimes, it came to their attention that they did not even recognize some of their family members.
Mathilde MUKANDINDA from Gisagara District is a mother of three children with disabilities (two boys and one girl) and among them the girl had deafblindness.
She said “These children were born like other children, but as they were growing we did not realize that they had a disability,”
“After knowing that they have disability their needs increased as they grow, we were obliged to take them to boarding schools and you understand it was very hard for a poor family in the village to take care of three children with disabilities living in a boarding school….” Mukandinda explained
Being patient and accepting that her girl became deaf blind when she was in P6 was hard for the parents and a series of challenges started to impact negatively on their lives.
Thanks to the trainings offered by ROPDB, she got a good understanding of the situation, became patient and tried to live with such a situation.
MUKABARAMBA from Muhanga was born in 1973, she was the elder in her family, she has had difficult times since her parents realized that she was deafblind, she was taken for so many medical treatments but nothing changed on her situation, she struggled in the way.
She said”…. In the genocide against the tutsi that happened in 1994, I was struggling to hide myself, with the deaf blindness I didn’t know and see what was going on, I was not able to know where I was hiding, everything was terrible to me….”
She added that his parents tried to support her with what they were able to afford and later she knew that there is an organization supporting the persons with deafblindness and since she joined the organization the life is going on.
Different partners such as Bridge to Justice and National Human Rights Commission and Disability Rights Fund committed to support projects aiming at raising the awareness of that particular category and will support the sign languages and tactile sign languages trainings that will benefit them.
In her concluding remarks, the guest of honour UMURERWA Chantal from National Human Rights commission and Civil Society focal person thanked ROPDB for their step forward.
She commended them to closely work hand in hand with RNUD adding that on their behalf they will put extra efforts to the awareness of the persons with deaf blindness disability category.
She committed to add more efforts to raise their voices to the concerned institutions wherever possible.