On the 5th of May 2015, about three hundred hearing-impaired women from across Nigeria convened in Lafia, the capital of Nasarawa State for the 7th National Deaf Women Conference. I was invited to deliver the keynote address titled: “Deaf Women, Make It Happen” and to also commemorate the International Deaf Women Day. I set off from Abuja at 5am, driving all the way to Lafia. The approximately three hours journey took me five hours because of rain and military checkpoints.
On arriving the venue at about 10 am, I was surprised by the attendance. I never knew we had a huge population of hearing impaired women in Nigeria: 316 hearing impaired women from across the country. According to one of the participants, “these are the few who could make it down to Lafia.” This count does also not include the men or children in attendance. These women belong to the National Deaf Women Association of Nigeria with chapters in all 36 states of the country. Very conspicuous was the Asoebi (uniform) for the day: All the women were adorned in shiny green and gold colored clothes, with matching accessories, including their head ties down to their shoes. It was a huge party, very bubbly and filled with life. Security detail were scattered all around the entrance of the old auditorium, a famous DJ was on sight and the scent of firewood jollof in the air and the clinking sounds of bottled soft drinks comforted me.
I delivered my speech with the help of 2 interpreters standing at either corners of the stage interpreting to the crowd of excited women. One of the interpreters is Simi, a daughter to one of the hearing impaired women, and the other is a husband to another participant. They waved their hands so fast like experts; I couldn’t help but admire them. Many family members of these women were also present to show solidarity and support.
Below are ten things I quickly learned from my experience at the National Deaf Women Conference:
- To give a round of applause, you don’t clap; you waive both hands in the air
- Do not to touch or poke or grab a hearing-impaired person to get their attention. It is rude. You can get noticed by facing the person, or waving your hands.
- There are approximately 22.5 million Nigerians living with (dis) ability
- Sometimes you may need to write down your words and let it be seen. Also, if a hearing impaired person asks you to go ahead and speak, please speak very slowly so that your lips can be read.
- Learn the sign languages for “Please”, “Sorry” and “Thank you”. You will be amazed how much these can do for you.
- 25% of Nigerian hearing-impaired women would benefit from devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants but are constrained by funds
- There are insufficient job opportunities and learning utilities for hearing-impaired women in Nigeria. Also, another issue they repeatedly complained of is the high incidences of physical and domestic abuse, even in marriages. When I asked Hauwa, she told me punningly (with the help of an interpreter): “Dem say we no dey hear word!”
- The current ‘Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria’ gave a speech about the need for ‘deaf inclusion’ in social, cultural and health spaces. She also emphasized the need to have interpreters in television entertainment programmes and not just news. ‘The Most Beautiful Deaf Girl in Nigeria’ is a pageant show that has been running for several years. It is aimed at showcasing the beauty and intellect of hearing impaired women for national and international acclaim. And in adherence to the international beats, the ‘Mr Deaf’ has been included in the pageantry with the inaugural ‘Mr and Miss Deaf Nigeria’ scheduled to hold in 2016.
- As simple as this sounds, remember to always send a text, never call.
- Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (DWAN) has been able to stand in gap providing guidance/counseling services to our hearing impaired girls and women as well as their parents and guardians, helping them to know and fight for their rights and advocacy for comprehensive laws to tackle various challenges facing them.
The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons living with Disabilities (IDPD) is tagged “inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all disabilities.” This is crucial because people with disabilities must be able to fulfill their role in society and participate on an equal basis with others. For the tens of thousands of hearing impaired women in Nigeria, we have to focus on their ability and not the disability. I met hearing-impaired women who are leading impressive lives as doctors, traders, farmers, teachers, artists and models, to mention but a few. Hauwa shared her intention to run for political office in 2019. Impossible is nothing for these women! However, sadly, the Disability Rights Bill which will give equal opportunity to persons living with disabilities in Nigeria has still not been passed into law.
Jake Okechukwu Effoduh (@Jakechukwu) is a Human Rights Lawyer based in Nigeria.