The founder/coordinator, Voice of Disability Initiative (VDI) spoke to Daily Sun through a sign language interpreter on the challenges faced by deaf students in pursuit of tertiary education, gender violence and other issues.
Why are you pushing for inclusive education in Enugu State University?
My sole aim is to give back to the society and because there was no such facility in the whole of South East, I had to travel all the way to University of Ilorin, so I decided to bring this to the South East because many deaf people abandoned their education at secondary level. That’s why I initiated the project of floating the deaf resource centre in Enugu State University of Science and Technology. Luckily for me, the good people of Enugu state were interested; the Vice Chancellor of ESUT, the registrar, Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly and many others liked the idea. We wrote proposal to ESUT and it was approved; we’ve also sourced for a professional sign language interpreter to become the pioneer sign language interpreter there. She was the best graduating student of sign language in the University of Jos and hails from Enugu state. ESUT recently appointed her and she is undergoing training, very soon she would occupy her position.
But the challenge now is how to get deaf students to enroll in ESUT; many are frightened that ESUT fees are high and that they don’t have the facility to manage deaf students, they are still having the erroneous feeling that it’s waste of resources, how do we engage sign interpreters without having deaf students get admission. That’s why we have decided to step up the advocacy to let Nigerians know that a deaf resource centre has been established in ESUT and encourage parents of deaf children who have finished secondary school to allow them seek admission in ESUT.
We also have the plan that certain number of deaf students that will be the first to get admission will be tuition free till graduation as a way of encouraging others.
What was your experience as a deaf student pursing education in University of Ilorin and even in the United States of America?
Before you get admission in University of Ilorin, you will visit the deaf resource centre in the university; they will discuss with you and it’s the centre that will decide whether you’ll be admitted or not after going through your records. So, after securing the admission, as a student, you will go to your department, copy the timetable and submit to the deaf resource centre. It’s the centre that will take the responsibility of sharing you among the interpreters using the timetables submitted by the various deaf students. You don’t need to run to the centre to remind them anytime you have lecture as the sign language interpreter assigned to you will always use the timetable to be in the class even ahead of you.
What has the Enugu state government done to help inclusive education?
Through relentless effort, a lot of graduates were employed into the state service during the recent employment exercise. Besides, this effort to make ESUT inclusive is also with the moral support of the Enugu state government. Also, we are working on producing the disability rights bill which was earlier abandoned; we want to reintroduce it in the state House of Assembly and seek the governor’s assent.
What’s your take on disability-based gender violence?
I decided that I must marry a deaf person like me because I didn’t want for instance where the family of my husband will be a challenge to me, maltreat me and gossip about my disability. They can also influence their son to maltreat me; I know the society we live in and how it views physically challenged people, the discrimination. That’s why I decided to marry somebody like me. But since I got married, my husband is from Enugu state too, not that we’ve not had differences, but we sort them out by ourselves. We’re living happily and promoting each other. But if a woman with disability marries a man without disability, no matter how they love each other, it will get to a point that the man will start maltreating her because he will say that she has become some form of obstacle to his success or other things. It will take much to keep that marriage; the lady will have to endure so much and with time, he will turn her into a punching bag.
Even in government, a lot is against girls and women with disability. They know me and how stubborn I am in the Enugu Government House; I don’t just take nonsense. Women with disabilities suffer a lot even in the hospital especially the pregnant ones. The case is worse if you are pregnant and on wheel chair. They will say look at, this one is pregnant as if it is a sin for somebody on wheel chair to get pregnant. Then when the person is deaf, it becomes another matter altogether if there is no interpreter. Even in an emergency, when they hear that the person is deaf, they will say please stay aside that they have people to attend to. All these increase the mortality of women with disabilities; so much challenge, so much discrimination that we must all join hands to fight.
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