Resilience of Deaf Mothers Amidst COVID-19

Most People with Disabilities (PWD) in Kenya rely on casual labour, hawking and begging for a living. COVID-19 control protocols imposed by government have made it extremely hard for PWDs to continue with their daily activities. The situation is even worse for single, jobless, Deaf mothers. RoGGKenya explains some of the challenges and how they overcome them.

Jane Awuor is a Deaf single mother who is in her early thirties.  The company she used to work for closed down in April 2020, leaving her and other colleagues jobless.

With the help of a sign language interpreter, Awuor told RoGGKenya that after she lost her job, she started selling fruits to support herself and her daughter.

But this also did not last long because she didn’t have enough customers due to strict COVID-19 protocols imposed by government.

“I then decided to wash people’s cloths and roast maize by the roadside. This also did not work. People avoided buying food by the roadside to control the spread of COVID-19. At some point, government banned hawking food for a while,” said Awuor.

Awuor is a friend of Judy Kihumba, a sign language interpreter with over ten years of experience. They have known each other for more than five years.

The interpreter saw an advertisement by a new company in Nairobi that was hiring new employees. She then intervened and negotiated so that Awuor could be employed.

“I am currently working in a packaging and printing company in Nairobi. It would have been very difficult to get this chance because of the communication barrier, but Judy interpreted and negotiated for me,” said Awuor.

Lack of interpreters at work places 

Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) alphabets.

Awuor’s employer does not have a sign language interpreter. She is also the only Deaf employee out of 120. However, Kihumba agreed to help with the sign language interpretations between her and the boss whenever there is need.

Most companies in Kenya don’t have sign language interpreters. In fact, only media houses are required by law to have full time interpreters.

In 2018, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) directed all broadcasters to have sign language interpreters by 2019.

CA requires all media houses to ensure they have 100 percent signing during news and events of national importance as well as all emergency announcements.

This is to ensure that their Deaf audience understand what is being broadcast.

Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is currently working with the Kenya National Association of the Deaf (KNAD) to come up with a new Kenyan Sign Language Act.

This would ensure the provision of Kenyan sign language interpretation that will eliminate all current barriers that deny, the Deaf community members access to education, employment, public information, justice among others.

Maternal health

Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) numbers.

Judy Kahumba founded a Nairobi based organisation  called Talking Hands-Listening Eyes in 2020. Her aim is to address the challenges posed by COVID-19 on maternal mental health of Deaf nursing mums.

The organization currently supports 30 Deaf mothers. Twelve of them are single young mothers who delivered within the last one year.

“I have a specific category of first time Deaf mothers, whom I deliberately check on every day and support in their motherhood journey,” said Kihumba.

Dametri Adhiambo, is one of the single mothers supported by Talking Hands-Listening Eyes.

“Judy brings me food and baby diapers. I have never lacked diapers since I delivered. Diapers are very critical yet expensive, so I really appreciate the help,” Adhiambo said.

Her challenges are not different from those faced by 27-year-old Catherine Kinya, also a Deaf mother.

“I am very happy and excited about this new journey. Motherhood is the best feeling ever, despite the challenges I have gone through,” said Catherine.

Kihumba said that she is very passionate about Deaf mothers because their children are likely to suffer more, compared to mothers who can hear.

“The main reason we take these mothers in is because when the babies are sick, sometimes they vomit at night or  fall asleep and the mother would not hear,” said Kihumba.

Motherhood journey is tough for the poor, but it is tougher for Deaf mums, who stay alone. Talking Hands-Listening Eyes, also supports Deaf mothers with post-partum depression.

“Some of the mothers stay alone in the house the whole day. They have no one to hold their babies for them. The babies may be crying but the mothers can’t hear them,” said Kihumba.

To Adhiambo and other Deaf mothers supported by Talking Hands-Listening Eyes, Kihumba is very important in their lives.

“Every time I need to go to the hospital for any medical attention, she has to accompany me. She has been of great help not only to me, but even other Deaf mothers at Pumwani Hospital that I attend,” said Adhiambo.

Nickson Kakiri, the national chairperson of Kenya National Association of the Deaf (KNAD) says the majority of  Deaf Kenyans do casual work like selling sweets on the streets.

“Generally Deaf women are very vulnerable and often taken advantage of, especially now that there are no jobs. It is important that they get information on reproductive health and self-defense where possible,” said Kakiri.

Kakiri is however not happy that KNAD has not received any support from the government to help the Deaf who are affected by COVID-19.

Expensive test

An audiology test, is the measurement of range and sensitivity of a person’s sense of hearing. Kakiri says it is very expensive for the Deaf to pass through the process at the hospital and that KNAD is currently doing advocacy work, to reduce the price.

“The Deaf have to pay Ksh 6,000 for an audiology test and by the time the application process is done, it shall have cost Ksh 10, 000. This is too high, given the majority of Deaf people does not have any job. KNAD is pushing for free tests to make the process affordable and accessible,” said Kakiri.

A Disability Card serves to prove a disability, and can be used whenever proof is needed to access certain services, programs, or activities. Those who have disability cards are not subjected to some taxes like pay-as-you-earn (PAYE).

Kakiri is happy that KSL and braille are recognised in the Constitution of Kenya article 7(3)(b). Article 54 and article 120 . “What we hope for is that Kenyan Sign Language Act be approved by parliament to regulate use of KSL, interpretations, and accreditation of Kenyan Sign Language interpreters.”

Legal support 

The Persons with Disabilities Act 2003 is an Act enacted to provide or lay out the rights and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities in Kenya. It also established a National Council for persons with disabilities.

There is also the Africa Disability protocol and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The purpose of the UNCRPD is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and promote respect for their dignity.

According to the national census, Kenya  had 918,270 PWDs in 2019. About 12 per cent of these are Deaf. The government’s disability services, benefits and grants are provided through the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD). However, individuals must first register with NCPWD and receive their identification card to be able to benefit from the services.

Nickson Kakiri urged the government of Kenya to pay more attention to the Deaf so that they can be more productive. “The Deaf are normal bright people who can achieve anything with the right support. It is not right that they are left to be casual labourers and hawkers.”

What journalists should do:

  1. Report more on issues affecting the Deaf so they can get useful information.
  1. Report on the communication gaps within organizations that do not have sign language interpreters.
  1. Investigate corruption allegations in hospitals offering hearing tests.
  1. Follow-up budget allocations for PWDs and highlight if there is need to advocate for more allocations.
  1. Highlight criteria used to register PWDs on cash transfer programmes and tell the stories of those whose efforts are unsuccessful.


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  1. Very good and informative, I have also learnt how to pronounce my name through the signs included in the article. Keep up the good work Tebby

    1. I also tried to pronounce my name.. Very interesting. More people should learn KSL to make communication with the Deaf easier.

  2. This is really touching story.
    Tebby Otieno you’re doing Recomendeble job,God reward in especial ways.
    Freel blessed.

  3. wonderful publish, very informative. I ponder why the other experts of this sector do not understand this. You should continue your writing. I am confident, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

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