You are on page 1of 10

Official Recognition of Kenyan Sign Language A Submission to the Committee of Experts on Constitution Review 3rd December 2009 Contents

Preface Summary of recommendations 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Background to this submission The Kenyan National Association of the Deaf The case for official recognition of KSL The legal status of KSL The status of sign languages around the world Routes to official recognition

Appendices: Preface This paper represents the views of the Deaf Community, Parents, Interpreters and Teachers of the Deaf in Kenya on official recognition of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) and Tactile for the DeafBlind. The paper makes the case for official recognition of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) and makes specific recommendations as to what form such recognition might take in the Draft Harmonized Constitution. It outlines the reasons why the Deaf community is campaigning for official recognition of KSL and assesses the current legal status of Kenyan Sign Language. The paper also includes a brief survey of measures taken by other countries to recognize their national sign languages and considers possible routes to official recognition in Kenya. The paper is intended to assist the Stakeholders, Deaf community members, Interpreters, Teachers of the Deaf, Parents and families in formulating its advice to the government on the question of official recognition of KSL. Some Deaf community organizations have expressed the view to the Committee of Experts (COE) and we wish to echo their sentiments and join what is primarily an issue of linguistic rights. KNAD wishes to work constructively with the COE to progress the issue of official recognition of KSL as a national and official language. Some organizations wished to make clear that they had had insufficient consultation time to be in a position to support the Submission positively, but did not wish this to be construed as not necessarily agreeing with the Submission. Many other member organizations were unable to respond within the tight time-scale available.

Summary of Recommendations It is estimated that Kenyan Sign Language is the first and preferred language of between 600,000 and 800,000 people in the Kenya. Deaf people who use KSL are united by a shared culture, community and history; KSL is fundamental to their self-esteem and social well being. KNAD believes that official recognition of KSL would bring clear benefits to many thousands of Deaf people in terms of improved access to information and services. Recognition would also promote better knowledge and understanding of the language in society as a whole and formally acknowledge the status of KSL as one of Kenya's second most widely used indigenous national languages as Swahili. KNAD therefore recommends that the Harmonized Draft Constitution be amended as follows: Chapter 2 Section 9 - Languages and Modes of Communication o (1) The national language of the Republic is Kiswahili and Kenyan Sign Language (KSL). o (2) The official languages of the Republic are Kiswahili, Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) and English. o (3)The State shall respect, promote and protect the diversity of language of the people of Kenya and shall promote the development and use of indigenous languages including Kenyan Sign Language (KSL). o (4) The State shall promote the development and use of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL), Braille and Tactile for the Deaf-Blind; and appropriate modes of communication for persons with disabilities. 2. Chapter 6 – Section 43 -Persons living with disabilities o (d) use of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL), Braille, Tactile, Interpreters and other appropriate means of communication for persons with disabilities. 3. Chapter 11 – Legislature - 144. Official languages of Parliament o The official languages of Parliament shall be Kiswahili, English and Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) and the business of Parliament may be conducted in either English or Kiswahili and Kenyan Sign Language (KSL).

1. Background to this submission This proposal was discussed at a meeting of KNAD delegates’ conference on 5th December 2009, to which all member individuals, organizations and stakeholders were invited. This submission is based on those discussions and on subsequent consultations with professionals, academicians, linguists and lawyers. This submission is a culmination and a summary of issues and position given to the earlier Constitution Review Commission between 2000 – 2006 during which in the draft then KSL was to be recognized as a national/official languages of Kenya. It should be stressed that Deaf people who use KSL are the majority of the Deaf population in Kenya, a relatively small section of the overall deaf population in Kenya use Signed Exact English (SEE) which is a is a system of manual communication that strives to be an exact representation of English vocabulary and grammar. It is one of a number of such systems in use in English-speaking countries, which are known

collectively as Manually Coded English. SEE is an artificial system that was devised in 1972. It is NOT to be confused with languages, oral or signed; a signed code of an oral language is simply a signed mode of the language it carries, just as a writing system is a written mode. Signed codes of oral languages can be useful for learning oral languages or for expressing and discussing literal quotations from those languages, but they are generally too awkward and unwieldy for normal discourse. For example, a teacher and deaf student of English in the United States might use Signed English to cite examples of English usage, but the discussion of those examples would be in American Sign Language. There is a broad consensus among KNAD members that this issue is an important one and that official recognition of Kenyan Sign Language would bring many benefits to those Deaf people who use KSL. Not all Deaf Kenyans are supporting this submission. Some support the aim of official recognition but have reservations on full support due to divergent opinions or lack of information on the nature, use and importance of the language to the Deaf community in Kenya. Others have felt unable to sign up to all of the recommendations made here. A list of organizations supporting the submission is attached (Appendix A). 2. The Kenyan National Association of the Deaf - KNAD The Kenya National Association of the Deaf (KNAD) is a legal Non- Governmental Organization (NGO). The organization was registered in 1987 with the government of Kenya under the Registrar of Societies Act of 1968 rule 4. Its membership is derived from affiliated regional association with members drawn from the grassroots Deaf community country wide. Originally, KNAD benefited from financial and technical support by the Swedish Association of the Deaf (SDR) through the Swedish International Development Agency SIDA. The relationship between two parties emerged after a Deaf Swedish couple visited Kenya as tourists in which they recognized and appreciated the different needs of Deaf Kenyan community. It is against this background that led to the formulation of the Kenya National Association of the Deaf. Despite capacity challenges, KNAD has partnered with number of donors to achieve its mandates since its establishment. Several initiatives have been delivered to deaf citizens as a result of this partnership such as follow: o Establishing 13 grass root branch affiliated associations of the deaf throughout Kenya. ALL use KSL as a medium of communication and interaction. o Establishing a Kenyan sign language development project in liaison with the University of Nairobi Department Of Linguistics headed by one of Africa’s highly regarded professor of Linguistics Prof. Okoth Okombo o Establishing a secretariat within Nairobi and 3 regional co-coordinating offices in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nyeri. o Establishing a deaf women co-coordinating office to cater for the welfare of Deaf women in Kenya o HIV/AIDS awareness to deaf women, men and youth throughout Kenya with support from willing donors.

o Networking with NGO’S, Disabled persons organization agencies growth and institutions for the implementation of policies having direct impact on the welfare of the deaf o Collaborated with Liverpool VCT to establish special VCT for the deaf in Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa using KSL as the mode of communication between the clients and the counselors, there are also support groups that meet regularly in these sites. o Work consistently with the constitution of Kenya campaigners to have a friendly constitution with an affirmative action for persons with disabilities o Work consistently with the ministry of Education, Kenya institute of Education and Kenya institute of special education for the promotion of deaf education in Kenya to be in line with general institutions in terms of curriculum and examination. 3. The case for official recognition of KSL There are no official figures for the number of KSL users in the Kenya, although it is estimated that there are between 600,000 and 800,000 people whose first and preferred language is KSL. There are as many Deaf KSL-users as there are speakers of some indigenous languages, and more people (Deaf and hearing) use KSL than either Swahili according to Ethnologue Report. Linguists have established that KSL is a language in its own right and is as complex and sophisticated as any spoken language. Like all linguistic minorities, members of the Deaf community have different degrees of access to the majority language of the wider community. Since KSL is more accessible to many Deaf people than spoken languages such as English, official recognition of KSL is especially important. BSL is the foundation for the self-esteem, educational achievement and social well being of the Kenya's Deaf community. However, that community exists within a wider society of hearing people. Consequently, Deaf people who use KSL experience high levels of social exclusion, particularly in the following areas: Access to information and services Deaf people face many barriers when using public and private services. This is frequently due to a lack of awareness of the needs of Deaf people on the part of service providers, and insufficient communication support. Deaf people with visual impairments (for example those with Usher syndrome) or other disabilities are especially disadvantaged. Because English is often their second language, Deaf KSL users do not always have full access to written information. Service providers therefore need to use interpreters wherever necessary and to make information available in KSL formats, for instance on video or CD-ROM.

Interpreting Kenya Sign Language Interpreters Association (KSLIA) was set up by a group of 20 local interpreters after training by the first Deaf Education US Peace Corps Volunteers in September 2000. Prior to this training there were several short term trainings conducted by KSLRP/KNAD dating back to 1980s and 1990s. KSLIA is an indigenous initiative evolving and strengthening the face of the Interpreting profession in Kenya. KSLIA hopes to improve and elevate the standards of Interpreting in Kenya through the following objectives: 1. To secure official recognition by the Government of S.L Interpreters profession 2. Encourage and promote initiatives in improving the standards of SL interpreting and interpreter training and pay scale of interpreters depending with their level and skills of interpretation through certification. 3. Cooperation with other recognized bodies concerned in the welfare of the deaf and in provision of S.L Interpreters throughout the world. 4. Awareness creation on Deafness and SL. Interpreters through publication of information materials 5. To collect and raise funds for the achievement of goals and objectives through membership fee, subscription, contribution, gifts or donations, commissions and payments, fund raising whether in money or otherwise from both members and non members. 6. To maintain and administer a registry of S.L Interpreters in Kenya, enforce a code of ethics and mediate conflict between the Interpreters and their clients. KSLIA is working towards the establishment of a training program and a certification process for its membership. [KSLIA] envisions its role in a three pronged approach - the three C's - Certification of members, Continuing education for the practicing Interpreters and Conflict resolution through enforcement of the Code of Ethics. Between 2006 - 2009 Global Deaf Connection, Deaf Aid, and KSLIA have jointly organized a series of trainings aimed at developing a process to provide training, certification and continued professional development for Kenyan Interpreters. A KSL/spoken language interpreter provides a vital link between Deaf and hearing people. However, there is currently a serious shortage. As of year 2000 there were only 50 practicing interpreters and 100 trainee interpreters registered by the Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters Association – KSLIA and the Kenyan Sign Language Research Project – KSLRP. The Persons with Disabilities Act 2003 requires businesses and service-providers to make their services accessible to Deaf people. However due to lack of gazette notification of these laws into policy has greatly contributed to the marginalization of the Deaf community in Kenya. The growth of demand for interpreters has not been matched by increased supply. This is a major obstacle to Deaf people's social inclusion.

Education In education, the use and teaching of KSL within a bilingual (KSL/English) learning environment is essential for some deaf children and adults. The early acquisition of language is vital to the learning process and for some deaf children KSL will be more accessible than spoken languages. The Framework of Action accompanying UNESCO's Salamanca Statement on Special Needs Education, to which Britain is a signatory, states that: The importance of sign language as the medium of communication among the deaf...should be recognized and provision made to ensure that all deaf persons have access to education in their national sign language. Framework for Action (1994), para 21 The United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 1993, similarly state that: Consideration should be given to the use of sign language in the education of the deaf children, in their families and communities. Sign language interpretation services should also be provided to facilitate the communication between deaf persons and others. Rule 5, Accessibility However, in Kenya, educational provision for deaf children varies greatly between education authorities, with some not offering bilingual programs and very few schools or resource bases for deaf children offering any formal teaching of KSL. A lack of access to KSL learning can adversely affect the language development of some deaf children and so impede their subsequent learning. Parents of deaf children also receive greatly varying amounts of information and training in KSL, depending on the area they live in. However, this level of support remains the exception rather than the rule. Many parents are denied the choice of a bilingual method of education for their deaf children. Most schools in Kenya have for years insisted on the oral and or total communication mode of instruction. Teaching and learning KSL Demand for KSL courses has increased dramatically in the last decade. More and more people are learning the language - more than 2000 people took basic level course in KSL since 1998. However, there is a major shortage of trained and qualified KSL tutors and assessors. There is a KSL dictionary, interactive self teaching CD, the Kenya National Examinations Council, Kenya Institute of Special/Education – KIE/KISE have in last couple of years been developing curriculum and examination materials for KSL which are set to be used beginning 2010.

4. The legal status of KSL Although there is little legislation that makes specific provision for users of KSL, the language is referred to in a number of Acts of Parliament and associated codes of practice with little or non supportive legal framework. For instance, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2003 include guidelines on the use of sign language interpreters by the media, electoral commission, courts systems etc. the Act also requires service providers to make "reasonable adjustments" to their practices, policies and procedures to enable disabled people to access their goods, facilities or services. Such references to KSL in domestic legislation might be taken to imply "official recognition of KSL", as might the inclusion of KSL as a subject of study within the framework of Kenyan education system. However, at best, this constitutes only an incremental approach to official recognition of KSL. Despite such progress, Deaf people continue to experience high levels of social exclusion. The Deaf community has consistently demanded a more comprehensive approach to recognition, and that argument is attracting increasing political support. 5. The status of sign languages around the world The legal recognition of sign languages is one of the major concerns of the international Deaf community. There is no standard way in which such recognition can be formally or legally extended; every country has its own interpretation. In some countries, the national sign language is an official state language, whereas in others it has a protected status in certain areas such as education. However, symbolic recognition is no guarantee for an effective improvement of the life of sign language users. Some examples of these legislation include:Australia Auslan was recognised by the Australian Government as a "community language other than English" and the preferred language of the Deaf community in policy statements in 1987 and 1991. This recognition does not ensure any provision of services in Auslan, but use of Auslan in Deaf education and provision of Auslan/English interpreters is becoming more common. “ It is now increasingly recognised that signing deaf people constitute a group like any other non-English speaking language group in Australia, with a distinct sub-culture recognised by shared history, social life and sense of identity, united and symbolised by fluency in Auslan, the principal means of communication within the Australian Deaf Community. Australia's Language: The Australian Language and Literacy Policy (page 20). (Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1991)

New Zealand New Zealand Sign Language became the third official language of New Zealand in April 2006, joining Māori and English when the bill was passed in the New Zealand Parliament on April 6, 2006. “ Part 2 cl 6: New Zealand Sign Language is declared to be an official language of New Zealand. —New Zealand Sign Language Bill

Uganda On October 8, 1995, Uganda's national sign language was recognised in the country's new constitution, making Uganda Sign Language one of the few constitutionally recognised sign languages in the world (WFD News, April 1996). A Deaf signer (27-year-old Alex Ndeezi) was elected to parliament in 1996. “ XXIV (iii). The State shall [...] promote the development of a sign language for the deaf."

—Preamble to the Constitution of Uganda Venezuela Venezuela Sign Language was recognized in the country's constitution on November 12, 1999. The European Parliament has passed two resolutions calling on member states to recognize their respective national sign languages, one in 1988 and another in 1998. Despite this, only four EU countries have done so: Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Sweden. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, thirteen other countries world-wide legally recognize their national sign languages. However, recognition can take various forms, and may mean many different things. In 1996-1997, the European Union of the Deaf Sign Languages Project, funded by the European Commission, surveyed the status of sign languages in a number of countries. Its findings included the following: Finland is one of only two EU countries that have made a constitutional commitment to the right to use sign language. A working group was set up in 1996 to consider how this constitutional right should be put into practice and recommend amendments to existing legislation. Portugal has also included a reference to its national sign language in its constitution. Article 74 of the Portuguese Constitution makes provision to "protect and value the Portuguese Sign Language as a tool for cultural expression and as a tool of access to education and equal opportunities." In Sweden a bill was passed in 1981 granting deaf people the right to a bilingual education. Swedish Sign Language is offered as a "foreign" language in mainstream schools.

Denmark offers a bilingual approach to deaf education, with Danish Sign Language as the primary language of instruction and Danish Sign Language formally part of the curriculum. Parents have the right to attend sign language courses funded by local authorities. In the Netherlands a Dutch Sign Language Commission was established in March 1996 to investigate how official recognition of Dutch Sign Language could be implemented. It reported back to the government with detailed proposals, which are under consideration. There is some debate as to whether or not KSL constitutes a language as opposed to a form of communication; however, it is distinct from English, Kiswahili or any other of the 40 plus languages in use in Kenya. This is really a matter for linguists. There is NO debate among linguists as to whether KSL constitutes a language. Although deaf sign languages have emerged naturally in deaf communities alongside or among spoken languages, they are unrelated to spoken languages and have different grammatical structures at their core. Kenyan Sign Language is not used within a given part or region of Kenya, but it is used by all the 600 – 800,000 deaf people throughout Kenya, regardless of where they live, tribe, religion or gender. It is therefore not a regional or minority language for the purposes of the Constitution. Relevant reference articles include: Kenyan Sign Language dictionary, Akach, Philemon A. O. Nairobi : KNAD 1991 - 580 p. Language: English; 1996 interview with Simeon Ogolla, former president of the Kenya Association of the Deaf. HIV/AIDS education program using Kenyan Sign Language. This site contains lots of useful information as well as photos of the Kenyan Deaf community. [7] Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters Association - KSLIA. Official blogspot with information on Kenyan Interpreters and Interpreter issues. Report from a US volunteer visiting Kenya to work with the Deaf community through an NGO. Demonstration of KSL CD developed by Peace Corps Volunteers working in Kenya. 6. Routes to official recognition KNAD strongly believes that the government should recognize Kenyan Sign Language under the Harmonized Draft Constitution, specifying it as one of the national and official languages to which 600,000 – 800,000 Kenyans use in their every day lives in their homes, churches, mosques, schools, in commerce, in courts, meetings, social events and official business. In upholding our National values, principles and goals of Chapter 3 which state in part that in promotion of national unity and the commitment of all citizens to the spirit of nationhood and patriotism; recognition of the diversity of the people and promotion and protection of their cultures; promotion of the participation of the people in public affairs and the sharing and devolution of power and ensuring full participation of women, persons with disabilities, marginalized communities and all other citizens in the political, social and economic life of the nation. KNAD therefore recommends that the Harmonized Draft Constitution be amended as follows:

Chapter 2 Section 9 - Languages and Modes of Communication o (1) The national language of the Republic is Kiswahili and Kenyan Sign Language (KSL).

(2) The official languages of the Republic are Kiswahili, Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) and English. o (3)The State shall respect, promote and protect the diversity of language of the people of Kenya and shall promote the development and use of indigenous languages including Kenyan Sign Language (KSL). o (4) The State shall promote the development and use of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL), Braille and Tactile for the Deaf-Blind; and appropriate modes of communication for persons with disabilities. 5. Chapter 6 – Section 43 -Persons living with disabilities o (d) use of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL), Braille, Tactile, Interpreters and other appropriate means of communication for persons with disabilities. 6. Chapter 11 – Legislature - 144. Official languages of Parliament o The official languages of Parliament shall be Kiswahili, English and Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) and the business of Parliament may be conducted in either English or Kiswahili and Kenyan Sign Language (KSL).

We commend the Committee of Experts for the work they have done so far and delight in the provisions on persons with disabilities are well drafted and represent our aspirations and values and persons with disabilities living in Kenya. It is our supplication that the Committee of Experts will consider these proposals and entrench them in the constitution for the benefit of posterity to live and enjoy the liberties of our nation without barriers, marginalization or exclusion. Kenya National Association of the Deaf 5th December 2009

Appendix A: KNAD membership supporting this submission Appendix B: KNAD member organizations Appendix C: Persons with Disabilities Act 2003 Appendix D: Rebuttal – is KSL a Language?