Dearth of interpreters leaves deaf students struggling in Sudan
At Sudan University’s fine arts college, two full-time sign language interpreters dart between classes trying to cater to dozens of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The college, in the capital Khartoum, is one of the few places in Sudan where students with impaired hearing can enrol in higher education. Though many do well at school, they are steered away from scientific or technical further studies, which are considered harder to teach them.
In practical classes, diminished hearing reduces distractions and allows the students to focus, teachers at the arts college say. They use their own vocabulary to describe colours, for example, but they struggle with theory and general subjects, where more information is given orally.
“We face a lot of problems,” said Aboulqassim Othman, a deaf graphic design student, using sign language to communicate through an interpreter. “While the teacher is talking, the student won’t hear.”
The arts college took its first hearing-impaired student in 2003. Now it has about 50 doing undergraduate degrees, and some 200 studying for diplomas.
But during a long economic crisis in Sudan, interpreters have left for better paid work in the Gulf.
“It is unfair for students with special needs to be included in a programme that is not prepared to include them,” said Awad Eissa, a teacher.
One of the remaining interpreters, Abdallah Ahmed, said he worked long hours to earn a salary that barely covers food and transport.
Hard of hearing students sometimes end up translating for friends who are completely deaf.
As with most young people in Sudan, opportunities after graduation are limited, even after a 2019 uprising which often called for increased rights for those with disabilities.
But many of the students maintain a passion for the arts.
“I am interested in photography to cover political events like the revolution,” said Adam Hammad, who wears a hearing aid.
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