The fight against HIV and AIDS and the struggle for the rights of people with disabilities have just received a timely boost in Zimbabwe with the publication of a Sexual and Reproductive Health Sign Language Dictionary, which will help to reduce the vulnerability of hearing impaired people to HIV as well as boost their capacity to claim their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Research has shown that people living with disabilities are at great risk of acquiring HIV, while empirical evidence has also demonstrated that people with sensory impairments - the deaf and blind - are more vulnerable than others, due to their special communication needs.
In particular, the absence of signs for many of the technical terms related to HIV and SRHR has created serious disadvantages for hearing impaired people and increased their vulnerability to HIV, and made it difficult for them to claim their rights.
In addition, there has been a very wide gap in the provision of HIV and AIDS services, as well as information related to sexual and reproductive health rights, for the deaf. They are generally not considered in programming, not by design, but as a result of the lack of sign language articulation amongst the majority of service providers.
Given this, the HIV and AIDS Management and Support Organization (THAMASO-ZIMBABWE) - in collaboration with the Disability HIV & AIDS Trust (DHAT) - decided to produce a special dictionary for people with hearing impairments that includes HIV and SRHR related signs.
The dictionary has now been published and includes an illustrated guide to signing and signing for individual letters, along with illustrations and descriptions for common words and for those new HIV/SRHR signs that have been developed, making it an invaluable reference for both those with hearing impairments and those without hearing challenges.
In respecting the adage "nothing for us without us" people with hearing impairments, drawn from all the provinces of Zimbabwe, developed the dictionary. Two workshops attended by deaf people from each province were conducted during which HIV, AIDS and SRHR information was disseminated to the deaf participants, which helped them to design informed signs.
And not just informed but critically standardised health-related sign language.
The dictionary is suitable for use in educational institutions (schools, colleges and universities) as well as in health institutions such as hospitals, clinics and VCT centres. Counsellors and all staff working directly and indirectly in the HIV and SRHR sectors will find the dictionary most useful.
The production of the dictionary was supported by the European Union, the Open Society for Southern Africa (OSISA) and the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS) - and involved participation from key government ministries, the National Council for the Hard of Hearing, the Zimbabwe National Association of the Deaf, the Zimbabwe Open University and the University of Zimbabwe.
This dictionary follows the publication in 2011 of the first general sign language dictionary in Zimbabwe, which was also supported by OSISA.