Jan. 10, 2022


3 min read

Barriers to sign language cripple healthcare

Barriers to sign language cripple healthcare

LNFOD Executive Director, Adv Nkhasi Sefuthi

Story highlights

  • Even under ordinary circumstances, persons with disabilities are less likely to access healthcare services
  • People with disabilities usually live in poverty and experience high rate of violence as well as neglect

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IT is not always possible for the majority of health professionals to communicate with the visually or speech impaired individuals, because they cannot read Braille and do not know the sign language.

Even under ordinary circumstances, persons with disabilities are less likely to access healthcare services, education, employment opportunities or fully participate in community activities due to lack of communication.

They are more likely to live in poverty, experience high rate of violence, neglect, abuse and are usually the most marginalised in the crisis-affected communities.

Lira Masitsa has been virtually impaired since childhood and he says he deserves to feel comfortable in life, arguing that health professionals need to communicate with him in a language he can easily understand.

“It is difficult for the visually impaired people to comprehend when health workers give them medication which are not written in Braille,” he said.   

Tlhokomelo Sabole-Mahase, who has a hearing disability said although significant strides had been made to cater for the deaf, the challenge still remained in health facilities such as providing powerful and visual accessible communication tools through the use of sign language.

She said it would be better if health facilities had someone who understood sign language in order to explain prescriptions and instructions to persons living with disabilities.

“The only solution, for now is that if nurses are not trained in sign language, they should at least slowly learn it so that they can communicate with patients with hearing disabilities,” Ms Sabole-Mahase said.

She was quick to note that the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the situation disproportionately, affecting persons with disabilities directly and indirectly.

The key barriers which Basotho with disabilities encounter when seeking inclusive healthcare services from local health facilities include inaccessible physical infrastructure that hinders their access to information and communication on public health materials.

The Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD), an umbrella body of organisations of persons with disabilities in Lesotho, has also noted that it is difficult and challenging for persons with disabilities to access healthcare services provided by hospitals and health centres.

This, the LNFOD says is due to the attitudinal and environmental barriers facing persons with disabilities, thereby leading to poor health outcomes.

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Following the declaration of a national emergency in March 2020, LNFOD had expected both the Government and the NACOSEC to make information accessible to persons living with disabilities.

LNFOD is worried that so far, the health ministry and the NACOSEC have failed to work towards the promotion and inclusion of persons with disabilities in their various aspects of development.

LNFOD says the COVID-19 regulations also do not recognise their personal assistants, without whom it would be difficult to interact with society.

“It is difficult for some persons with disabilities to wear face masks,” the body also says.  

The requirement to wear masks has hindered people with disabilities from communicating and interacting with the healthcare service providers, thereby increasing their chances of being excluded from accessing health services on an equal basis with others.


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