Imagine living in complete silence, with little or no means to communicate with hearing colleagues and peers, or provide for yourself and your family; according to Charles Nyakurwa this is what it’s like daily for the large majority of hearing-impaired South Africans.
After finding inspiration in his Deaf younger brother’s (Peter) fight for a proper education and to become self-reliant, Nyakurwa decided to take action and ease the struggles of people with hearing difficulties throughout the continent, starting with South Africa.
“My deaf brother is an inspiration and the difficulties he faced during his endeavour highlight all our failures to facilitate an equal footing for both hearing and hearing-impaired people,” says Nyakurwa.
“Our perception towards people with disabilities is entirely to blame. He opened my heart and broadened my mind.”
In December 2011 Nyakurwa founded Deaf Hands at Work (DHW), where the majority of the staff is deaf or physically challenged.
“At DHW we work, clothe and sign in Deafstyle, a new innovative approach to providing skills training to Deaf and physically challenged individuals through our tradesmen services in the construction and garment industries,” explains Nyakurwa.
Operating from the Masiphumelele Township near Cape Town, Deaf Hands at Work offers a number of services, ranging from carpentry and gardening to project management and domestic help.
The organisation also produces a clothing line, Deafstyle Clothing, printed with common South African Sign Language gestures, helping hearing South Africans communicate with their hearing-impaired friends, family and co-workers.
“It’s easier for somebody who can hear to learn sign language than it is for a Deaf person to talk or read lips,” Nyakurwa says
“Some of the biggest challenges that Deaf people face is communication and negative perceptions from hearing counterparts.
“We still have severe tendencies of shouting at a Deaf person for example; it’s our ignorance that is costing us.”
South Africa is home to about 1.5-milion hearing-impaired people, of whom 75% are functionally illiterate and less than 30% are employed, this thirty percent makes up less than 1% of South Africa’s employed population. Nyakurwa’s organisation is trying to change this situation; “We see South Africa as a nation where people with disabilities can be influential role models and high-impact social entrepreneurs in its socio-economic spheres.
“We want to change the perception from disability to ‘thisAbility’ …”
Nyakurwa says the organisation’s long-term goal is “to become the country’s leading social enterprise platform for Deaf and Disabled entrepreneurs and make Deafstyle a household brand”.
The organisation also aims to build awareness amongst the hearing population about the challenges Deaf people face.
“Socio-economic independence of individuals with disabilities needs to be attended to on an empowerment basis and drift away from dependency-generating solutions like grants,” he says.
THE SILENT DISABILITY AWARENESS WALK
As part of Deaf Hands at Work’s campaign to raise awareness around the plight of Deaf South Africans, Nyakurwa and his colleagues will participate in the 200km Silent Disability Awareness Walk from the organisation’s offices in Masiphumelele, to the National Institute for the Deaf in Worcester.
The walk will take place in September and will end when the participants arrive at the institute, after five days of walking in absolute silence and communicating only in South African Sign Language.
PLAY YOUR PART
To join the Silent Disability Awareness Walk, or learn more about the organisation, email Deaf Hands at Work at firstname.lastname@example.org, call the office on +27(0)21 785 7737, or visit the DHW websiteor its Facebook page.