MEMBERS of the deaf community say the lack of sign language interpreters in local churches has left them disenfranchised and spiritually deprived.
According to National Association of the Deaf Lesotho (NADL) President, Regina Lephoi, most churches around the country did not have sign language interpreters leaving deaf congregants unable to decipher what would be said.
She said because of the “protracted discrimination”, a lot of hearing impaired people were no longer attending church services resulting in them being labelled as “heathens” and adding to their ostracisation.
“We are perceived as heathens within the communities we live and also by religious leaders. This characterisation is affecting us negatively because some priests and pastors refuse to provide services to our members saying we don’t attend their churches,” Ms Lephoi told the Sunday Express in an interview on Friday.
“For example, when a deaf person dies, priests and pastors refuse to bury them saying they were not churchgoers. While I admit that a lot of our members don’t go to church, we have a very valid reason.
“Until the communication barrier is addressed in churches, we won’t be attending services. It’s not that we want to be stubborn, but there is no point in going to church and not understanding a single word that is said.”
She said the spiritual needs of members of the deaf community were also not being met since they were perennially sidelined by religious leaders.
“We really wonder if we will be able to see the kingdom of God since we can’t hear what the religious leaders will be saying,” Ms Lephoi pensively noted.
“In most churches, there is a Sesotho and English service. I wonder why they don’t include sign language interpreters during the church services.”
NADL, she said, was doing something about it by visiting churches to sensitize them about the importance of sign language.
“We have been visiting churches to advocate for sign language interpretation and urging priests, pastors as well as congregations to learn sign language and understand its importance,” Ms Lephoi said.
“However, there is still a long way to go. In our view, priests and pastors are not doing their work fully of preaching the word of God if there is a segment of the community that is unable to receive their message.”
She added: “I once had a nasty experience in church after I brought a sign language interpreter. I asked him to stand near the pulpit so I could follow the proceedings during the service, but the priest ordered him to sit next to me and interpret from there.
“When he sat next to me, I strained my neck from having to turn sideways all the time while the priest was preaching.”
Ms Lephoi added that people with disabilities had the right to enjoy the human rights accorded to able-bodied people.
“I think it’s high time that all Basotho understood that catering for the hearing impaired, or any other form of disability, is a human rights issue. We must all get involved because tomorrow it might be you or your child, your relative or neighbour facing such a challenge,” she said.