Kenyan health services are often unable to serve the Deaf adequately due to the language barrier. Continuing on the success of a similar project in 2007, a health-focused poster will be created and distributed to hospitals, clinics and voluntary testing and counseling sites nation-wide. The poster will highlight more than 50 health-related signs, the alphabet, numbers and information on how to contact a local interpreter. Production will include working with Deaf organizations and health-focused NGOs, sign language and health issue research, training of the Deaf, surveying selected sites on Deaf issues and Deaf awareness education. The collection of publication of health-related signs and production skills will add to a growing amount of research on Deaf issues in Kenya that future projects and other aid organizations can utilize.
Kenya suffers from a lack of adequate health education materials for the Deaf. While there are many materials designed for the hearing in English, Kiswahili and other spoken languages, materials using sign language have not been created at a scale necessary to serve Kenya's roughly 300,000 Deaf. Many people mistakenly assume that English or Kiswahili materials can also serve the Deaf community. This is an inadequate solution. Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) is the "native tongue" of Deaf Kenyans. Other languages are acquired slowly and often poorly in Kenya's few schools for the Deaf.
As any Health professional knows, matters of life and death are best discussed in the native tongue to avoid miscommunication. Similarly, effective communication of reproductive health messages is essential for addressing serious health threats like HIV/AIDS. Though the Kenyan government and aid organizations have begun to better serve the Deaf, most of Kenya's Deaf have not received proper reproductive health education and are generally unfamiliar or uncomfortable with a health system designed for the hearing. At the same time, there is wide-spread misunderstanding among the hearing about the Deaf, who are often thought to have lower intelligence.
These conditions have created dangerous situations when the Deaf seek medical attention. During our service in Kenya we met many Deaf people who explained their difficulty seeking medical help. Basic information about what is ailing the person, how to take medication and what the results of a test mean often elude a Deaf Kenyan because of the language barrier. It is this language barrier that must be confronted to better-serve the Deaf.
Language development is crucial to a child’s learning and social skill development. Deaf children in Kenya are at a particular disadvantage as few parents of the Deaf know Kenyan sign language or have the means to obtain sign language skills. As a result, many Deaf students in Kenya develop language skills later in life thus slowing their learning acquisition and limiting accessibility of vital information that they might pick up in the home. We addressed this problem in 2007.
During our time as Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya, we partnered with multiple schools and organizations to create the "Easy to Learn Kenyan Sign Language" poster. Our goal was to address the lack of KSL being used in Deaf students' homes. In addition to the alphabet and numbers, we identified 51 signs in five categories: questions, family, food, work and health. We worked with local Deaf communities to come to a consensus on exactly which signs would be used and how they would be performed. Knowing Kenyan culture's love of posters and the fact that posters would be treated better and last longer than any form of low-cost printed material, we settled on A2 size prints with a metal hook for easy placement on a wall. Each sign illustration was accompanied by the English translation, a Kiswahili translation and an icon to serve the illiterate.
For the first printing, we distributed almost 2,000 posters to the parents of Deaf children at five schools. We collected extensive data on what signs were being used in the home, what other language were being used in the home, what issues were encountered when parents tried to communicate with the Deaf children and more. We discovered that Kiswahili and English were the appropriate languages to use since they are the dominate spoken languages of Kenya. We also found ways to improve our illustrations, clarify the icons and improve readability. Overall, the first printing received an overwhelmingly positive response. All volunteers who participated in its distribution were flooded with requests for more.
With the lessons learned from an initial test printing, we then printed 5,000 copies; this was enough for every child attending a school for the Deaf with a Peace Corps volunteer, staff members of every Deaf school and a small number for communities surrounding Deaf schools.
All of us met as Peace Corps Volunteers in 2006 in Kenya. Frank, Miranda, and Sam were all in the same Behavior Change Communicator (BCC) program. Bebeth and Mark were in the Small Business program as Information Technology and Communication volunteers. While the five us are the primary principles in this project, there were many (too many to name here) other Peace Corps Volunteers, Kenyan Peace Corps Staff, Kenyan interpreters and educators, and Deaf Kenyan students and adults that provided essential feedback and support.
Frank Lester - With a BA and Masters in Social Work, Frank has spent a long time involved in HIV/AIDS issues in the Deaf Community. He has worked for the University of California in San Francisco as a Deaf HIV/AIDS Service provider, Lighthouse for the Blind and California School for the Deaf. In 2006 Frank joined the United States Peace Corps and was sent to Kenya to be a part of the Behavior Change Communicator program. He spent over one and a half years in Kenya until the political unrest forced an evacuation. In 2008 he was asked to help jump start a Deaf program with Peace Corps Zambia. He is currently still serving in Zambia.
Miranda Roberts - Miranda has written for as long as she can remember and holds a Masters degree in English with a concentration in publishing and editing. Having written on a wide variety of subjects and for diverse audiences, she prides herself in massaging words into easy-flowing content that appeals to readers of all kinds. Miranda served in the US Peace Corps in Malawi and Kenya.
Sam Roberts - Sam has been creating digital artwork since he got his first computer in 1985, a Macintosh 512k. Sam studied film and video production and later cultural anthropology. Today, Sam is an award-winning UI designer and 3d Animator with more than 12 years of professional experience working for hundreds of organizations including Apple, BBC, Ebay, EA, Panasonic, the University of North Carolina and many NGOs around the world. In 2006, Sam returned to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer to create visual communication materials for the Deaf. In Kenya he blended his cultural anthropology and graphic design skills to help create the world's first Easy-to-Learn Kenyan Sign Language poster which was distributed to more than 10,000 Deaf children. Sam and his wife Miranda teamed up to Mark and Bebeth Steudel to pursue cutting edge interactive development as Mindful Interactive.
Bebeth Steudel - Bebeth has been interested in software development since finding herself in a Computer Science 101 course her freshman year of college. There she found a great outlet for her love of puzzles and problem solving. After college she combined her computer background with her passion for teaching and taught computer science in high schools across the country. Her understanding of educational theory paired with programming skills evolved into working in the educational software field as a curriculum designer and software developer for a digital textbook company.
In 2006, Bebeth followed her passion to help others and joined the US Peace Corps, ICT program. She was placed in Kenya where she spent a year working on an ICT system aimed at providing banking and contractual markets to poor rural farmers. Then in 2007 she co-founded Mindful Interactive, an interactive web and media company focused on making a difference.
Mark Steudel - Mark has a diverse background in the Information Communication Technology field. He has worked as a Linux System Engineer supporting huge web server farms for companies like Daimler Chrysler and General Motors, an IT Manager at a privacy software company, and a developer creating custom tailored web applications for small and large businesses.
After working in the corporate ICT world for 10 years, Mark decided that "selling widgets" wasn't fulfilling enough. Mark and his wife decided to join the Peace Corps ICT program through which they were stationed in Kenya to develop a supply chain management software platform connecting small rural farmers to contractual markets via mobile telephones. During his time as a Peace Corps volunteer, he was able to focus his vision and in 2007, along with three other Peace Corps volunteers, co-founded Mindful Interactive, an interactive web and media company focused on making a difference.
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