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How can we raise the deaf awareness of communities, to erase the pervasive stigma deaf children face?

Published Date: 03 Aug 2021

An overview of what we learnt at the third Unheard Children webinar

“Some communities look at being deaf as a curse – maybe the family did something wrong and God punished the family…you will find parents will hide their deaf children.''
                               - Richard Mativu, Deaf Child Worldwide East Africa

We recently held our third webinar in the Unheard Children series. This time we looked at the myths that emerge in communities with low deaf awareness, as people search for the reasons why children are deaf. Some of these can be very damaging and can contribute to stigmatising and isolating deaf children and their families.

Unfortunately, in the course of our work we have found even professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers, police, religious and community leaders have little knowledge of deafness.the subject. Even organisations that work with children with disabilities may not have specific knowledge about deafness. It is an ongoing process to change attitudes and behaviours of community members and requires support and buy in from community leaders.

This webinar’s keynote was delivered by Richard Mativu, formerly of Deaf Child Worldwide East Africa and now director of Sense International Kenya.

Richard Mativu keynote

Richard covers:

  • How religious and cultural beliefs about deafness which shame families can lead to disabled children being kept at home.
  • Why treating people with disabilities as superheroes for everyday achievements is not helpful and is a symptom of  low expectations.
  • What ‘audism’ is and how it affects deaf children.

After Richard gave his presentation we held a panel discussion with him and two other experts in deaf culture and community from South Asia. Pradeep Sumat, who works as a Deaf Role Model at the Citizens Association for Rural Development in Odissa, India, and Deaf Child Worldwide’s Senior Advisor on Deafness Nita Gopalakrishnan.

Unheard Children: Communities panel

The panel discussion covered:

  • How community health services such as those giving information about Covid-19 are not reaching deaf children and young people.
  • Why working with religious leaders is vital to dismantle ideas that deafness is a curse (East Africa) or karma for action in a past life (South Asia).
  • How seeing deaf adults living ordinary lives inspires and motivates parents of deaf children.

The more we discussed the lack of deaf awareness in communities, the more we could see how many areas of life this touched. From healthcare to education to celebrations and family life, changing the attitudes towards deafness would bring down so many of the barriers deaf children face.  

Our next webinar looks at the topic of Education. You can find out more details, including how to book your free spot, here.