Liberia News: LIMITED BUDGET SUPPORT HURTS PWD ACCESS TO INFORMATION

…Scene of Antoinette Tubman Cheshire Home. Credit: Joyclyn/TNR

Monrovia-May-09-2024-TNR:Liberia- The National Commission on Disability’s budgetary allotment has been substantially decreased to just more than US$200,000.00, down from almost a million in the fiscal year 2023. According to experts, this is a prescription for failure and would further disadvantage those with disabilities. 

The NCD includes 78 entities to which transfers should be made. This means that funding for these organizations will drop to US$250.00 per quarter, down from US$400.00 per quarter for institutions in the previous year.

“The NCD is underfunded. We don’t have any program for sign-language interpreters. Samuel Dean said, “The  deaf sign-language interpreter’s organization has been complaining that in the past they have not had a subsidy, so this time around when we get the funds we will ensure that we include them but that wouldn’t be enough for the service.”

Dean is the director general of the National Commission on Disability (NCD), the umbrella organization that oversees the affairs and operations of all people with disabilities and disability groups in the country. Before his appointment to the NCD, he fought for people with disabilities to be included in all aspects of national administration.

There is no recent data on the actual number of persons living with disabilities in Liberia, although supporters say the figure is still around one in every five Liberians.Liberia experienced brutal civil war from 1999 and 2003.Public Services International argues that this war may have led to Liberia’s growth in disability from 16% in 1997 to 20%, which is much higher than the global average of 10%.7% of the people with disabilities here are hearing impaired.mix of societal attitudes, limited accessibility, poor educational institutions, and the system have all harmed people with disabilities’ quality of life. Owing largely to insufficient budgetary support among other things, making it even more difficult to continue attempts to bridge the nation’s long-standing communication gaps.

The previous administration of President George Weah made some progress by incorporating sign interpreters at major public events to reach out to the underrepresented group, particularly hearing-impaired individuals who may be present at these events or who live within the nation’s territory.

For instance, in 2023, a coalition of ten (10) Civil Society Organizations came together and hosted the first SRHR Conference under the umbrella of “Amplifying Rights Network,” to advance sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through the promotion of social justice, mainly evidence-based advocacy, and accountability.

To be inclusive, the group hired four local sign-language interpreters for the three-day event (May 26-28, 2023): one female and three men. The event attracted the most sign interpreters since the inclusion campaign began.

Like the SRHR conference, the signing of the revised Farmington River Declaration was on April 5, 2023. The Revised Farmington River Declaration is a commitment by political parties to non-violence and judicial means to resolve electoral conflict arising before and after elections. At that gathering, a male sign interpreter covered the event from start to end.

Also, following a public outcry by people with hearing impediments and PWD advocates, In 2022, the official celebration of Liberia’s 200th Bicentennial took into account sign interpretation to let the marginalized group feel a part of it as contrasted to earlier public events.This was after a February 2022, published article by the New Republic Newspaper in which people with hearing impediments expressed frustration and disappointment in the absence of sign interpreters at major public events particularly the State of the Nation address attended by them that year.Following that, the Weah administration made some efforts to close the information gap, not just by including sign-language interpreters at public events but also in its messaging. For example, the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism (MICAT) then began reducing its usual Thursday briefing to sign interpretation so that persons who are hard of hearing may access the information. The National Elections Commission is another entity that has been reducing its messaging to sign language to this day.

With the change in government, it appears that things are returning to normal for those with hearing impairments. The absence of sign interpreters during President Joseph Boakai’s inauguration and State of the Nation address speaks volumes. Dean stated that he discussed the subject with the inaugural committee about including sign interpreting as a key component of the event, but they downplayed it.

In 2022, Adrian Sandi, then Deputy Director for Technical Service at the National Commission on Disability, informed TNR that Liberia had 11 sign interpreters, emphasizing the need for more people to be taught to sign.

“When we are to go to other countries we have interpreters there to interpret for us, but when it comes to Liberia it is different,” Sandi said.

   Adrian Sandi, former Deputy Director for Technical Service at NCD. Credit: Joyclyn/TNR

Dean emphasized this point, citing a shortage of qualified sign-language interpreters in Liberia.

“It’s not a matter of sign language interpreter it is a matter of somebody who knows what you are doing and disseminating the information properly because mind you there’s a language barrier there, is no fault of the deaf because they were born like that. Dean said, “It will surprise you that even in the great United States, during the Obama inauguration, Obama was saying something else and the sign-language interpreter was saying something else.”  

NCD Plan To Deploy Sign-Interpreters At Government Entities to ensure adequate access to information:

Dean was asked if there are any plans to work with government bodies such as the foreign ministry, National Identification Registry, birth certificate, and legislature, among others, to assist those with hearing impairments who may seek services at these institutions.

“Is not that the institutions don’t want to hire sign-language interpreters but the biggest problem too is who will pay for it so we can see how we can talk to these people to include it in their budget in the coming year,” Dean said.

      Samuel Dean, Executive Director of the National Commission on Disability. Credit: Joyclyn

According to him, they are more interested in scouting chances outside of Liberia so that people can receive good signing education before returning to train others.

Dean stated that once that is completed, the commission would be able to begin deploying sign interpreters to ministers’ offices and state-owned enterprises that provide public services.

“We are going to make it so professional that if you don’t have a sign-language license you cannot sign,” Dean said.

Recommendation:

Dean suggests that sign-language interpretation be taught as a mandated second language in Liberia’s schools (high schools/universities) so that even if a person has a deaf friend in their class, he or she can study together using sign language.

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