Govt Offices to Start Using Sign Language in New Law

Youla Nzale President Uhuru Kenyatta
Sign Language interpreter Youla Nzale and President Uhuru Kenyatta During the 2019 Devolution Conference in Kirinyaga County

The Senate has approved the Kenyan Sign Language Bill, 2021. The Bill requires all government institutions including parastatals, the Judiciary, and schools to ensure sign language interpretation in all public places.

If passed by the National Assembly, sign language will become the third official language after Kiswahili and English and will be used in all government offices, schools, and courts.

The move also opens the door for sign language to be offered as a discipline of study in basic education, technical and vocational training institutions, public colleges, and public universities.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education shall ensure that deaf learners and learners who are hard of hearing are taught in a manner which they are able to understand and use the dominant language of instruction in the education system,” the Bill reads in part.

Signs Tv
Signs TV, launched in September 2021, is the first fully-fledged Sign Language TV station in Kenya
Signs Tv Kenya

According to nominated Senator Gertrude Musuruve and her Uasin Gishu counterpart, Margaret Kamar, who are the Bill’s co-sponsors, public institutions will set up structures and processes that ensure inclusion for persons with hearing and speech disabilities.

It is envisioned that once the Bill is passed into law, such persons shall have an equal chance at opportunities as those not living with similar disabilities.

“The principal objective of this Bill is to provide for the use of sign language in judicial proceedings, schools and public institutions to ensure that deaf learners are given the same opportunities as all other learners to be productive members of the society,” the proposed law states.

The Bill defines Kenya Sign Language to mean sign language predominantly used in Kenya by the deaf community. It states in part: “Sign language means a system of communication, both visual and tactile, as the case may be, by manual signs or symbols including body movement.”

This implies that sign language shall thus be recognized as an official language, other than English and Kiswahili, and can be used in such official functions as legal proceedings.

The Bill also mandates the Cabinet Secretary for Education to ensure that teachers training colleges and universities offer sign language in their curriculum to ensure that teachers are well equipped to offer the same to learners.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education shall ensure that institutions offering teaching training offer, as part of their curriculum, courses on Kenya Sign Language and interpretation,” adds the Bill.

The Bill was voted for at Senate and has consequently been forwarded to Parliament for further debate. If passed, it shall be brought before President Uhuru Kenyatta for assent into law.

Deaf People
A young boy talks to his grandfather in sign language (file image)