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International Deaf Awareness Month is held every September and strives to promote the rights of Deaf people and highlight specific human rights topics that merit attention. One of the issues that needs to be highlighted is a Deaf person’s right to earn a living. The Deaf community is one of the most marginalised groups in South Africa. Because of the fact that they cannot communicate freely with the hearing world, they are often regarded as incompetent or not intelligent, and not fit to be employed. This is far from the truth!

The current unemployment rate in the Deaf community is 75%, which is alarmingly high. There are 47 schools for the Deaf, but only 10 offer matric. Therefore, the majority of Deaf learners leaving the education system are prevented from progressing to a tertiary education. Further hampering Deaf learners is the way in which many are educated; only 14% of teachers within the Deaf education system use South African Sign Language to a proficient level. This inhibits the Deaf learners’ ability to read and write proficiently.

It is for this reason that Media Works, an adult education and training (AET) service provider, joined forces with eDeaf to empower the Deaf community. The partnership ensures that Deaf candidates are given the necessary skills to successfully integrate into the hearing world in order to be able to find suitable employment. eDeaf empowers the Deaf community for business by training and placing learners in suitable jobs. In just under a decade, eDeaf has secured the placement of 2,500 Deaf candidates in 200 organisations nationally with 80% employment retention. In doing so, many high profile corporate companies have changed their incorrect perception and stereotypes associated with placing a person with a “hearing disability”. There are currently 430 learners within the training centres nationally, boasting a 90% retention. In the Shoprite/Checkers group alone, eDeaf has placed 540 learners to date.

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The AET material provided to eDeaf by Media Works is a revolutionary programme that has been developed specifically for Deaf learners which helps them to progress through AET levels 1 – 4; the basis for further education and employment. The PWD (People With Disabilities) programme, developed by Media Works, makes up a large portion of the material used by eDeaf. This programme teaches English effectively via a blended learning approach (multimedia and face-to-face facilitation), which allows all the learners to reach their full potential. The programme is culturally relevant and locally developed, so learners can internalise the subject matter effectively as they can relate to the content. The programme is interactive which in turn results in a higher concentration and information retention rate. Studies by IBM showed an improved retention rate of up to 70% in 50% of the time. The PWD programme is self-paced, so the learners can progress at a pace that is comfortable to them. The multimedia aspect means that learners are introduced to technology in a non-threatening manner. Learners enjoy the stimulation of a different medium of instruction and progress is measured by a sophisticated tracking system.

Nazereen Bhana, co-owner of eDeaf, commends the Media Works PWD programme as it helps Deaf school leavers to learn the rules of English and encourages bilingualism. She emphasised that the visual aspect of the programme makes it easy for students to understand. After completing the PWD AET programme, learners have a competent level of basic skills to enable them to further their studies, follow a career path or develop their general job skills.

Deafness does not affect a person’s intellectual capacity or ability to learn, but children may lack the language stimulation experienced by children who can hear. A delay in learning language may cause a Deaf child’s academic progress to be slower than that of hearing children. Deaf children who receive early language stimulation through sign language generally do well academically. Media Works and eDeaf share the same values in that both organisations believe in empowering the Deaf community.

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For more information, please visit www.mediaworks.co.za and http://www.eDeaf.co.za.