March 1, 2024

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Unveiling the Hidden Struggles of the Deaf-Blind Community in Rwanda

By DUSABEMUNGU Ange de la Victoire

In a world where education is the key to unlocking opportunities and empowering individuals, it is disheartening to acknowledge that limited access to educational services still persists for an often overlooked group – children, youths, and adults with deaf-blindness in Rwanda.

These individuals face several challenges that hinder their overall well-being, making it crucial for the Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-Blindness (ROPDB) to shed light on these pressing issues.

According to ROPDB, the lack of recognition of Deaf-Blindness as a special category exacerbates the challenges faced by individuals in this community.

Mr. Musabyimana Joseph, the Executive Director of the Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-Blindness said that “While access to education remains a significant barrier, the absence of specific recognition further limits resources and opportunities for those who are Deaf-Blind.”

“It is crucial for the Government of Rwanda to acknowledge and address the unique needs of individuals with Deaf-Blindness, providing them with the necessary support, resources, and inclusive opportunities to thrive.” He said

“Only through recognition and concerted efforts can we ensure that Deaf-Blind individuals have equal access to education and a chance to lead fulfilling lives.” Mr. Musabyimana added.

The concerns of Deaf-Blind Persons were raised on Friday, June 30, 2023 as Rwanda commemorates the International Deaf Blindness Awareness Day with the theme “Deaf-blind Persons: Access to Communication.”

This event gathered government officials and various partners.

It was an important occasion to highlight the challenges faced by individuals with deaf-blindness in Rwanda.

Based on the theme: “Deaf-blind Persons: Access to Communication” ROPDB, explained that their challenges primarily revolve around communication, which includes sign language, tactile sign language, and other communication methods utilized by individuals with deaf-blindness.

“The celebration of the International Day for Deaf-blindness began in 2012, and since then, it has been observed annually. This year marks the 13th time that we are celebrating this day in Rwanda.” Explained Mr. Musabyimana

“Among the challenges faced by persons with deaf-blindness until today is the lack of recognition of this specific type of disability. We urge the government and other authorities to recognize and categorize deafblindness as a distinct disability. This will ensure that their rights are acknowledged and their unique needs are taken into consideration.” He said.

“Another challenge faced by individuals in this category is the lack of schools that can provide them with a formal education. Throughout the entire country, there are no schools that can accommodate individuals with deafblindness disabilities and allow them to receive education like everyone else, despite the fact that education is a right for all.” He added.

Available statistics show that more than 160 children who are deaf-blind who are not in school in Rwanda.

 ROPDB calls on the government to look for what it can do so as to have the schools of persons with deaf- blindness.

Despite the above-mentioned challenges also in society where they live there is exclusion and negative mindset to the family members and the community in general to these persons with deaf-blindness.

“In our Organization, we have tried our best to train many sign language interpreters to help these people to communicate when they are doing self-advocacy or individual advocacy. We also trained the parents on communication signs that can help them to communicate with their children or other family members who have this kind of disability. Also, we supported the family members economically within our limited capacity.” Musabyimana said.

The idea of starting the Rwanda Organization of Persons with Deaf-Blindness (ROPDB) and also talking about the rights of persons with deaf-blindness started in 2011 as an initiative of three national organizations that include Rwanda Union of the Blind, Rwanda National Union of the Deaf, and Rwanda National Association of Deaf Women.

These three organizations, who were coming up close in their different activities with persons with deaf-blindness sat together and had an initiative of starting to think about how this category of people with deafblindness could be supported.

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