Religious leaders in the country have taken the blame for their long denial of hearing-impaired people from benefiting from the usage of sign language during religious ceremonies.
In admitting the blame, some of the religious leaders interviewed by the Daily Graphic said that very important aspect of communication had never crossed their minds.
Churches in the country often preach in one language or another and this is interpreted in other languages, including French, to reach a wider congregation. Yet, nearly 99 per cent of worship centres in Ghana have no sign language interpreters to reach out to the hearing impaired.
Ghana’s current population stands at 25.37 million and out of this three per cent are living with disability.
Those with sight or visual disability form 1.2 per cent; those with hearing disability 0.4 per cent; speech 0.4 per cent; physical 0.8 per cent; intellectual 0.5 per cent; emotional 0.6 per cent, while those with other forms of disability form 0.3 per cent.
The Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, the Most Rev Emmanuel Asante, said, “It’s a neglect on our part.”
The Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, the Most Rev Gabriel Palmer Buckle, admitted: “The issue of deaf and sign language has definitely escaped us.”
Apostle General Sam Korankye Ankrah, the General Overseer of the Royalhouse Chapel International, said, “It has not occurred to us.”
Rev Gideon Titi Ofei of the Sheepfold Ministry described it as an “almost unpardonable oversight on the part of the church”, while Rev Steve Mensah of the Charismatic Evangelistic Ministry maintained: “It’s an omission and once we are no longer people-focused, then our relevance as a church fails to exist.”
In unison, they all said, “We are sorry!”, but Rev Eastwood Anaba, the President of the Eastwood Anaba Ministries, held that “the apology is not just ‘I am sorry’ but also repentance”.
Swami Ghananand Saraswati, the first-ever monk of the Hindu Faith on the African continent, said, “We are selfish. We apologise to them,” while the acting Ameer of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission admitted: “I must be frank with you, this has never occurred to me. We do not have a sign language interpreter and none of our mosques has that. It is worrying, but unfortunately that is the situation. Ever since I was born this has never occurred to me. It has escaped us totally. You can quote me anywhere; I don’t mind because it is the truth.”
In spite of interventions to provide support for those living with disability at all levels of national life, appropriate communication using sign language to aid their understanding of what is communicated to all Ghanaians has been almost non-existent.
The support of various religious groups to those living with disability has, over the years, been encouraging, with a good number of them undertaking philanthropic activities even in rural areas and other deprived communities.
But all these laudable efforts notwithstanding, it appears religious bodies have done little to ensure the proper integration of people living with disability by way of communicating to them in the proper way.
In the Christian society, the Pentecostals, Protestants, Catholics and the Charismatics are all guilty of this neglect.
But, quite ironically, Romans 10:17 of the Bible states: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
So the question is, how can the naturally deaf have faith when they are not enabled to hear in the many worship centres?
This neglect of persons living with disability goes beyond the church, with evidence on the ground showing that the situation is the same in the various mosques across the country.
Razak Isifu is hearing disabled and visited two mosques in Accra — the Cantonments Police Mosque and the Asuma Banda Mosque at the Airport Residential Area — but did not comprehend any message as a result of the absence of a sign language interpreter.
The Quran [Hud 11:20] says: “They will not be able to escape in the earth, nor do they have any protecting friends apart from Allah; they will have punishment upon punishment; they were unable to hear, nor used to see.”
So another question pops up: How can the naturally deaf-blind escape this punishment when those who can hear and see have neglected them?
In the Hindu Devotional Book: The Spiritual Ascent of Man, by Swami Krishnanand Saraswati, pages 34 and 35 categorically admit that “the deaf are most unfortunate…. Deafness is the highest hurdle barring their way to progress”.
It adds that in devotion, “the first lessons in language and other knowledge are received through listening…hence listening is the first step of devotional worship and divine love which is Bhakti”.
Swami Saraswati conceded that those who were able in Hinduism in Ghana had not enabled those who had deaf disability.
Cause of neglect
Lack of statistics on the deaf population in Ghana was, in some cases, cited by some religious leaders to have contributed to the neglect.
But, on the contrary, the 2012 census released by the Ghana Statistical Service revealed that persons with disability formed three per cent of the 25.37 million Ghanaians.
Those with hearing and speech disability together form 0.8 per cent. This figure is equal to the percentage of people who belong to other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, among others.
The census revealed that 110,625 people have hearing challenge, while 101,096 have speech challenge.
This number is bigger than the population in some metropolises in Ghana. In fact, with the exception of the Accra, Kumasi and Tamale metropolises, the population of our people with hearing and speech challenge is greater than the number of people living in any settlement in Ghana, including Sekondi-Takoradi, Cape Coast, Sunyani, Koforidua and Ho.
Can the lack of statistics be an excuse?
For Rev Anaba, even the global statistics should push the church to act immediately.
Coincidentally, Rev Anaba has an elder sister who is a sign language interpreter, yet he confessed that it had escaped him to utilise her services.
Similarly, the Most Rev Palmer Buckle has a nephew who is deaf, yet he too admitted that the idea of using a sign interpreter in his parish had never crossed his mind.
Violation of Constitution
It is also worth noting that it is not just the religious bodies that have neglected the deaf in the Ghanaian society.
The entire country has violated Article 17 of the 1992 Constitution on non-discrimination, as even at important national gatherings such as Independence anniversaries, sign language is absent, leaving the deaf in wonderland.
Even on national television, with the exception of Ghana Television which interprets its news and a few programmes in sign language, no other television station reaches out to the deaf.
All not lost
All hope of remedying the situation is, however, not lost.
When contacted, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, gave an assurance that beginning this year, a sign language interpreter would be provided at every Independence Day celebration and other national events.
True to her words, for the first time in the history of this country, a sign language interpreter was used at this year’s Independence anniversary parade at the Black Star Square in Accra last Thursday.
For his part, Bishop Charles Agyen Asare, the Presiding Bishop of the Perez Chapel, called for a return to what was right, saying, “We will go for Sankofa.”
Religious groups have also given assurance of there being light at the end of the tunnel.
The Church of Christ, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Pentecost and even more recently the International Central Gospel Church are a few who are making the attempt to reach out to the hearing impaired through sign language interpreters in church.
Other calls have been made for the Ghana Education Service to include sign language in its curriculum.
More importantly, others have called for the re-vamping of the defunct Ghana National Association of Sign Language Interpreters to help avoid situations where fake interpreters will emerge, as happened recently at the funeral of the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
The essence of democracy is respect for the fundamental human rights of all, including those living with disability, and that, without doubt, remains a non-negotiable stance.