South Africa’s constitution guarantees the right for every person to freely engage in economic activity but deaf people in the country say for many of them economic freedom remains just a dream. COVID-19 pandemic has also deepened issues of societal exclusion for the deaf community.
Despite the many challenges they face, some, like Lazarious Ramolotja have beaten the odds and succeeded to establish their own companies.
Ramolotja is one of over more than two million deaf people in the country. He says deaf people struggle daily to meaningfully participate in the economy.
The 43-year-old father of three runs a welding business.
He shares his story with us, with the help of a professional interpreter, Sebone Kgethe.
“My name is Lazarious Ramolotja. I stay in a village called Seweding in Mahikeng. I am a father of three. I started welding many years ago. I now have my own company.”
With his skills clearly outweighing his disability, Ramolotja has found a way to communicate with his clients. He says there’s no communication barrier.
“Deaf people around here don’t have businesses. So, I thought to myself that I should have my own business. It does not matter. If there is a communication barrier, there is a pen and paper. It doesn’t mean I need an interpreter all the time. People know that I am deaf and can see that I am deaf and they can also see that I am a skilled person. I want to see deaf people having their own businesses,” he says.
According to the World Health Organisation, over 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss. Access to education and job opportunities remain key challenges for the deaf community.
COVID-19 has also proven a big barrier for the deaf community. Interpreting coronavirus messaging has become an uphill battle. Ramolotja says he still doesn’t understand much about the virus.
“COVID-19 … I felt the pinch of it. I suffered lot. As a deaf person, I do not know much about this coronavirus. The hearing people can hear for themselves but for deaf people, it is a challenge. We suffer,” he says.
Sebone Kgethe’s parents are deaf. She is also a professional sign language interpreter.
She agrees that deaf people face socioeconomic barriers daily.
The deaf community is urging government to speed up the process of making sign language an official language.