In Ireland deaf children have the chance to communicate by text, sign or voice. This is not always the case in developing countries, where children can be isolated from society due to the lack of access to communication.
The world’s first project in which deaf & hearing classmates use SMS to chat face-to-face for inclusion, is being piloted by The Child Africa International School in Kabale, Uganda, with the UK-based Cambridge in Africa NGO.
Essentially, SMS is used to integrate deaf and hearing children at the school, and is sometimes supplemented by sign language. The phones also link deaf students at the school with their parents, who may be living in remote areas.
Co-ordinators immediately noted the advanced sign language skills used by the hearing students with the deaf children, the linking of deaf and non-deaf teachers at the school, and improved writing skills among the deaf children.
In the project’s first phase, twelve children (six deaf, six hearing) were taught to use a mobile phone with SMS texts. The messages pass via a central server in Kabale for educators to see how the children communicate among themselves and merge this learning into the school’s curriculum.
One child in this project is Docus Ayebazibwe who at just 10 years old had no chance to communicate with the people around her. Having a mobile phone has given her access to the life that any 10 year old should have.
She says, “All my village mates used to laugh at me because I could not hear what they would say and also I did not have any way to speak to them. “I thank God who brought Child Africa institute leaders to my local village. Can you imagine an orphan like me using a mobile phone SMS facility at the age of 10 to communicate to educated people like you? God is great.”
Caroline Kembabazi, 12 also looks forward to a future with SMS. “I can now visualize a bright future because I am far better than what I was when I was still shabby in the village four years ago. I am now in Primary Four and feel that education, especially science, is good for sign language people.”
Phase 2 of this project will be implemented this month and it is hoped the project will be accessible to 50 students by the end of this year.
(compiled by Miriam Walsh)