Translation of COVID-19 related information into sign language for deaf and hard of hearing community

January 25, 2021

RNUD's team member preparing a video to be shared with the deaf persons across the country

COVID-19 pandemic is highly contagious affecting all of us in particular the most vulnerable. Under this pandemic, all groups of the population must have access to reliable information, because it has been made clear that all categories of people depend on each other.

We can infect or contract Corona virus from each other irrespective of conditions, nationality, age rage or background and the only protection is having appropriate information on the disease symptoms, its mode of transmission and prevention.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were at the highest risk of being infected as they don’t receive information in the same way as the rest of the Rwandan community. They communicate through Rwandan Sign Language, which is known only by a minority.

Immediately after the confirmation of COVID-19 outbreak, UNDP Rwanda saw it as a threat to this community and partnered with the Rwandan National Union of the Deaf (RNUD) and National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD) to translate all COVID-19 information into sign language for the deaf people across the country.

RNUD uses its existing production studio to translate communiqués, statements and instructions from the Ministry of Health and Rwanda Biomedical Centre, statement and

resolutions of the Cabinet meeting and any other COVID-19 related information into sign language.

Explaining the process, Theophile Binama, who is hard of hearing and team leader at RNUD says when a statement is issued, most of the time through online platforms such as Twitter and website, his technical team gathers and share tasks. A professional sign language interpreter is hired to do the translation in front of a camera. The recorded videos of translation are edited, polished and shared with Rwandan community of the deaf through social platforms, including WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channel.

Yvette Mugisha, a mother of two is deaf as well as her husband. Both have been relying on RNUD translation they receive in form of video through WhatsApp. “Before these videos, we had little to almost none information about COVID-19; what it is, how it spreads, their symptoms or the prevention measures. My worst worries were that I could unknowingly expose my children to the virus. I now know how to protect myself and protect my two children thanks to these videos we receive on a regular basis,” Mugisha explained.

Mugisha hails RNUD sign language translation services saying they have saved her life and that of her family because through these videos they have access to accurate and up-to-date information related to COVID-19 pandemic.

RNUD estimates 5000 deaf people who have access to COVID-19 translated information via all social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp.

For a wide reach, the NCPD works with Rwanda Television to translate news and TV shows talking about COVID-19 into sign language for deaf people across the country.

To ensure a two-way communication, the RNUD has also put in place a video call post through which deaf people make calls to ask questions or more details about the virus or make any other inquiries.

The Chairman of the RNUD, Augustin Munyangeyo recognises that the translation into sign language is among the most effective ways to keep deaf community informed of the evolution and dynamics of the pandemic. He appreciates UNDP and other partners’ support to people with disabilities and calls on them to continue to work closely together to ensure people with disabilities are considered in all plans, strategies and policies.