Becoming Citizens-A Baseline Report 2015

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The Deaf Zimbabwe Trust in its rights programme sought to access the level of access to information for the Deaf community in Zimbabwe. The Deaf community has been invisible largely due to the invisibility of Deafness and also because much focus has been on other forms of disability that are more visible to the eye. This has resulted in many of their information needs being neglected. Sen states that “Access to information and means of communication are essential for anyone to realize their rights as a citizen”. He goes on to note that “without ways to gather knowledge, express opinions and voice demands, it is impossible to obtain an education, find a job or participate in civic affairs.” This baseline study was meant to provide information for advocacy purposes and also to open the eyes of stakeholders to the information challenges faced by the Deaf community in Zimbabwe. The Deaf community in Zimbabwe have not been able to access national developments in their country which has removed their ability to fully enjoy citizenship in Zimbabwe. In ability to access information has resulted in inability for the Deaf to participate in national processes. Findings show that Deaf people in the study have not been able to enjoy freedom of expression. Freedom of expression entails the ability to receive and impart information, for the Deaf this has not been possible as sign language was not recognised as a language until 2013 when the new constitution was adopted. The non-usage of sign language has resulted in marginalisation and exclusion of the Deaf community in Zimbabwe. Freedom of expression for the Deaf community will enable them to obtain self-fulfillment, assist in making judgements about issues; it will  strengthen their capacity to participate in decision making and will enable participation in national events from an informed point of view.

In addition, the non-usage of sign language is embedded in the lack of a legislative framework that enables the operationalization of sign language. While the new constitution provides for sign language as an official language, this alone has not helped Deaf people enjoy the right to information. For the Deaf to enjoy the right to information there has to be a targeted and intentional effort to ensure that all communications are in formats that the Deaf can understand. Findings also revealed that most Deaf people acquire sign language later in life in most cases when they start school. Most Deaf children are born to hearing parents. These parents have not knowledge of sign language which makes it very difficult for them to provide language to their children. Deaf children born in these settings use home signs which are basic and this means that they have no language. The late acquisition of their first language (sign language) makes it difficult to learn English as a second language hence the reading levels of most Deaf people are low compared to their hearing counterparts.The Central Statistics Office (2007) noted that information is important in every aspect of one’s life. It is essential to increasing people’s knowledge and awareness of what is taking place around them which affects perceptions and behaviour.

Findings also showed that lack of access to information has negatively affected the well-being of the Deaf community in Zimbabwe. As a result of lack of access to information, multiple rights of the Deaf are affected such as the right to health, education, participation in political life, justice among others. Access to information is central to the  achievement of these rights. This report provides more detail on the extent to which the Deaf community in Zimbabwe has access to information. The project is a part of an advocacy campaign on restoring citizenship and access to information for the Deaf community in Zimbabwe.

About DZT

Deaf Zimbabwe Trust was formed and registered as a trust in 2012 and began operations in 2013. Initially the organisation was formed to advance the rights of Deaf children.

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