12 March 2018

Namibia: Student Drags Unam to Attorney General Over Sign Language Interpreter

Windhoek — A hearing impaired full-time university student has written a letter of complaint to the Office of the Attorney General complaining that the university has not given him a sign language interpreter, who is qualified to assist at university level.

Twenty-four-year-old Naapopye Anatoly Uulenga is a third-year Bachelor of Education Honours student at the University of Namibia (Unam).

Uulenga claims that the university language interpreters assigned to him are under qualified and have never worked at university level, therefore, are unable to interpret and assist him effectively with his studies.

"I am loving every moment of being a student on campus. The challenge of not having a Namibian sign language interpreter remains. Access to education is a right I feel very strongly about. Without a Namibian sign language interpreter, I am denied that right and even worse, I am denied an opportunity to fulfil the potential I have proven to have," Uulenga said.

Uulenga says a qualified sign language interpreter would cost N$200,000 and he is determined to hire one, but he has no money. So far, the Harold Pupkewitz Foundation generously provided the first N$30,000 towards the total cost.

It is on the basis of being denied the right to education that he has written a complaint to the Office of the Attorney General. His complaint has attracted the attention of a helpful legal officer, Anél van der Vyver.

Van der Vyver, who has since moved to the Ministry of Justice also as a legal officer, said Uulenga's complaint is that Unam is unable to pay for a qualified interpreter and Uulenga is unable to learn without one.

"His right to education was being denied and he was squandering the potential he has shown to have. Mrs Selma Moses, a qualified interpreter, sacrificed her time and career to assist Mr Uulenga and continues to do so. Her dedication and passion are remarkable," Van der Vyver noted.

On inquiry regarding the matter, Unam spokesperson, Simon Namesho said the university has employed, on part-time basis, two sign language interpreters to support Uulenga's full-time studies.

"Mr. Uulenga is receiving continuous and courteous support from the Disability Unit, the Khomasdal Campus community as well as the Office of the Dean of Students, and with one more a year to go on his studies, we have no doubt that we will see him graduate," Namesho noted.

Namesho said since the arrival of students with disability, hearing disability to be specific, in 2003 at Unam, the university's academic and administrative staff members have since built on experiences on the various challenges in providing the service to students with disabilities on Unam campuses.

He said even though much has been done in this respect, room for improvement and implementation still remains.

He maintained that the Disability Unit at Unam contracts only sign language interpreters that have obtained at least a certification from the Namibian National Association of the Deaf.

Meanwhile, Van der Vyver said the Office of the Attorney General contacted a few organisations to obtain funding for an interpreter, but none were able to fully assist.

"Finally, we decided to take the matter to the people of Windhoek and rely on their generosity and desire to see positive change by creating a profile on the PayToday App under Namibian National Association of the Deaf," she added.

"Kindly spread the word to your colleagues and friends. Our aim is to reach 1,000 people donating N$200 each one-off," Van der Vyver pleaded.

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