As of 2007, it was estimated that 528,000 out of Uganda’s 28 million people are deaf. That figure has risen to over a million as Uganda’s population jumped to over 45 million. Yet, there are only a few primary and high schools for the deaf in the entire country.
Many African countries still struggle to integrate physically challenged people into society. Thus, many of them end up as beggars on the streets or live off the mercy of others. Uganda’s Parliament passed the Persons with Disabilities Act in 2019. In addition to other issues, it required private and public broadcast stations to have a sign language interpreter.
In many countries, the deaf and dumb are unable to access courts and public services due to the absence of interpreters. The alienation of the deaf community was made worse during the COVID-19 outbreak. Many deaf communities were not abreast of vital information concerning the virus.
The motivation behind the founding of Signs TV Uganda
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world declared lockdowns and curfews. The military, police, and paramilitary were sent into the streets to enforce the lockdown. Unfortunately, this information was not properly disseminated to the deaf community.
One day, a deaf man was walking on the street beyond curfew time. The Local Defence Unit (LDU) called him and he obviously didn’t hear their call. Unaware of the man’s condition, the military interpreted it as an act of insubordination.
The man was eventually shot in the leg and wounded. When asked, the family said he knew nothing about it. Unfortunately, the man’s leg had to be amputated. The police said they will investigate but nothing has been heard since.
Moved by the man’s story, Susan Mujaawa thought it would be nice to have a television for the deaf. Consequently, she teamed up with a deaf African journalist and friend Eroku Simon to found Signs TV Uganda. The online television channel aims to bring news content and full television programming to the deaf.
How Signs TV Uganda is impacting Uganda’s deaf community
Signs TV Uganda made its first broadcast in April 2022 and has its studio in the suburb of Kampala. The television station has eight staff out of which half are deaf. A typical news broadcast involves two deaf anchors reading the news.
At the same time, a sign language interpreter signs the news at a pace that matches that of the news anchors. Also, there is a subtitle on the screen. These three layers of news delivery ensure that every member of Uganda’s deaf community is carried along, whether they understand the sign language or not.
Due to financial, technical, and staffing constraints, Signs TV Uganda currently produces a weekly news roundup on Saturdays. Its weekly bulletin sees an average of 400 viewers. At the time of filing this report, they had 245 subscribers.
Future plans for deaf programming
It is projected that the number of people with various degrees of hearing loss across Africa will rise to 332 million by 2050 from the current 136 million. This huge figure further adds credibility and urgency to the works of Signs TV Uganda. Countries across the continent must ensure proper information dissemination to these communities.
Regardless of the myriads of challenges facing Signs TV Uganda at the moment, they are pushing towards obtaining an operation license from the Uganda Communication Commission. This will allow them to scale their broadcast to terrestrial TV providers like Azam TV, StarTimes, and DSTV.
Simon is also looking in the long term at having their channels all over Africa, providing crucial information to deaf people across the continent. They also want to start a fellowship that will identify and train deaf people to become proficient in sign language journalism.