“Rather than a negative attitude, it’s a lack of awareness”

Guest Blogger, November 2016
Ambrose Murangira is Executive Director of the Ugandan National Association of the Deaf

“I thought I was the only one in my village. But I came to learn there were others with similar challenges”

Ambrose Murangira is Executive Director of the Ugandan National Association of the Deaf and a passionate disability activist. He was the third Deaf person in Uganda’s history to receive a university degree. Here he writes about some of the challenges faced by people with disabilities seeking employment.

I became Deaf at the age of 10 due to mumps. I was confused and wondered what has befallen me. But my mother, being a medical doctor, believed that I would regain my hearing sense sooner rather than later. She took me to all the ‘big’ hospitals in Uganda, including army hospitals, but they couldn’t restore my hearing.

It is now 24 years I have been living as a Deaf person and we are all happy.  In my early years as a Deaf person, I thought I was the only one in my village – in the rural areas. But I came to learn that there were some other people with similar challenges. I had to drop out of school because I didn’t know that Deaf people have a language called ‘sign language’. I went back to school after a sustained ‘push’ by my mum and my interaction with members of the Deaf community. Unfortunately, I could not get a sign language interpreter until I was in second year at Makerere University in Uganda pursuing a bachelor of social work and social administration.

Immediately after graduation, I applied for jobs – in my application letter I indicated that I would need a sign language interpreter for the interview. I was never shortlisted. Later, I decided not to mention my disability, and since then I have always been shortlisted and invited for interviews I realised that when I didn’t raise the issue of deafness, I would be invited.

When I went for my first interview, and they saw that there were two people, the panel chairperson asked: “Who is Ambrose?” and I said: “Me,” in sign language and they asked: “Who is this with you?” I explained that I’m a Deaf person and need a sign language interpreter. You could see the surprise on their faces. From then on, they didn’t ask me anything related to the job. Instead they asked, “When did you become deaf? How did you study at school?”

They were just wondering about my situation. “Can you write and read?” they asked. “Yes! I have a masters degree – what makes you think I cannot write and read?” They looked at each other in a jovial way and said: “Well, thank you, thank you, we will call you.” The moment you leave that interview and that scene, you just know what’s in their mind – their entire attention goes towards the disability. And sometimes they would ask: “If we decide to employ you, who will pay for your sign language interpretation services? For instance, when you want to speak to colleagues, or when we have a staff meeting here, who will cover those costs?”

[Back then] I felt they had a point, and I thought, yes, it would be hard for them to [cover the costs]. So at that time I had no answer.

But now I would tell them: “We have the Disabilities Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It’s very clear on the provision of services for people with special needs due to disabilities. The government has a responsibility to pay for sign language and other services. So when they need to employ a person, they have to write to the government and inform them that they will need some additional support. The government has a responsibility to negotiate, but not me.”

Ambrose will be guest speaker at Sightsavers’ Campaign Day on 3 December in London. Find out more and sign up to attend the event.

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