The hurdles of life in a silent world

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The prevalence of hearing impairment in children in Zimbabwe is significant and is said to challenge the academic, career and social potential of young children.

By ALOIS VINGA

Many people with hearing impediments face a raft of challenges in their lives.

According to audiologist Mkhonzeni Sibanda, hearing impairment varies from a mild hearing impairment to a profound hearing impairment.

Most people generally call this problem deafness but those scientifically referred to as deaf are people who have a profound hearing impairment, contends Sibanda. She said that there is a distinction between “Deaf” and “deaf” where capital ‘D’ refers to individuals who identify themselves as being part of the Deaf culture and use sign language and small ‘d’ deaf refers to someone with a hearing impairment but does not identify themselve as part of the Deaf culture.

Another audiologist, Tinashe Nhokwara, said there was limited accessibility of services to deal with the impairment.

“Audiological evaluations, hearing assistive devices as well as educational systems that cater for their needs are often unavailable,” he said.

“Hearing impairments in general affect one’s quality of life as they tend to miss out on the general social activities and they may not reach their full vocational ability nor have many opportunities so that if changes in their hearing starts to occur, it can be picked up at an early stage and change the dosage or give an alternative drug where possible.”

Newborn hearing screening is very crucial in identifying any individuals with congenital hearing impairments as this allows for early intervention by fitting hearing assistive devices.

“This would give the children an opportunity to develop their speech as would their normal hearing peers. Age of identification determines how well the child will do with the hearing aids or cochlear implants, the earlier the better results expected. Raising awareness on hearing impairments and the causes as well as providing primary ear care knowledge may also help prevent some forms of hearing impairment such as ear infections and ototoxicity caused by recreational drugs as well as noise induced hearing impairment,” he said.

The World Health Organisation estimates that over 5% of the world’s population – 360 million people – has disabling hearing loss (328 million adults and 32 million children).

The majority of these people live in low and middle-income countries. Approximately a third of people over 65 years of age are affected by disabling hearing loss.

The prevalence in this age group is greatest in South Asia, Asia Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa. As outlined by The World Deaf Federation Report of 2008 for Southern and Eastern Africa, an estimated 280 000 people in Zimbabwe suffer from hearing impairments.

However, Barbara Nyangairi, an official of the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust, sees the challenges posed by the condition differently.

“Dealing with this condition should go beyond the scientific aspects by drafting and implementing programmes of action which will manage the effects to those already living with hearing impairments. Focus must be directed towards improving the quality of education of the Deaf,” she said.

“This will be necessitated by intensive investment in special education in order to produce effective tutors from primary to tertiary education levels, this will be beneficial as it prevents the relegation of the disabled people to vocational and vending professions.”

She added that access to information had been impeded by lack of provision of sign language interpretation during prime time news and other news bulletins.

“Good Morning Zimbabwe news only provides sign language interpretation in part. Usually business news does not come with sign language interpretation, captions or subtitles,” she said.

She added that the recent public hearings conducted by the Information Media Panel of Inquiry also excluded the Deaf as there was no provision of sign language interpreters.

Lyndon Nkomo, a campaigner for the rights of the deaf, bemoaned the lack of sign language training and proficiency by medical personnel as a serious obstacle hampering access to health services by the Deaf in Zimbabwe.
“As a result of this, many deaf people are reluctant to go to hospitals because of poor communication problems thus exposing them to risks of poor health and low life expectancy. The deaf are at risk especially from wrong diagnosis and wrong prescriptions. It is important that the Deaf community and interpreting profession work together,” he said.

“Besides the health sector, even the learning platforms are also found wanting as educational outcomes for deaf learners continue to be very low due to inappropriate educational curriculum which does not provide suitable accommodation to deaf learners.”

Kuda Mapeture, who has a hearing impediment, said it was important for the Deaf to come together in order to solve their problems.

“The Deaf can also get land engage in various projects like farming metal work and carpentry to thereby improving their standards of living,” he said.

Nyangairi argued that the idea of perpetually relegating the disabled to vending jobs was unfair.

“There are a lot of disabled people who are exceptionally intelligent but due to unavailability of a conducive learning environment, they are impeded to enrol for professional courses,” she said.

“Sometimes even those with professional qualifications are denied employment opportunities due to disability. Just as much as hearing people love English and its richness, society must appreciate the fact that deaf people love sign language and its richness in the same manner.”

Former Miss Deaf Zimbabwe Kudakwashe Mapeture stressed that there was need for acceptance if communities were to tap into the potential of the disabled.

“When I contested for the Miss Deaf title locally and internationally there was both limited coverage and sponsorship as compared to the support granted to our hearing counterparts, who contest at functions of this kind,” she said.

There is no exhaustive list of the causes of hearing loss. The most common causes include heredity causes, age, noise, medication; middle ear infections, diseases such as meningitis and jaundice in children born prematurely.

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