Meet Uwinyange, a sign language interpreter on television- instrumental during COVID-19 and Kwibuka 26


At this time when Rwandans mark the 26th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi while joining the entire world in fighting against the global pandemic COVID 19, sign language interpretation services to deaf and hard of hearing communities are critical. Taking cognizance of this situation, the University of Rwanda’s School of Inclusive and Special Needs Education- SISNE enables community in Rwanda to access information on Genocide commemoration and COVID-19 pandemic. We met Beate Uwinyange, an academic staff in the SISNE and she took us through her experience as a renowned sign language interpreter at Rwanda Television.

Beate Uwinyange, an academic staff at UR School of Inclusive and Special Needs Education

You have been interpreting sign language on Rwanda Television during COVID-19 and Kwibuka 26 ; how did you get there ?

Well, I got official instructions from SISNE officials to respond to RTV (Rwanda Television) and NCPD (National Council for People with Disabilities) urgent calls. The latter assigned me to provide Sign Language interpretation service on RTV during COVID -19 pandemic and Kwibuka 26. Then I realized that the target groups are of utmost concern in the community and had to do my best to respond to this important national call.

How did you react when invited by RBA for Sign Language interpretation service ?

I am not new to RTV, because I worked there before, and my reaction was positive, particularly because I love providing support to marginalized persons. I am devoted to the promotion of their rights and improved lives. As a Sign Language teacher, I felt happy, because I was going to serve a large community of persons with hearing impairment.

What is Sign Language as opposed to spoken languages ?

Sign Languages are like all languages used by humans, for it carry the same information. However, it is a visual gestural language used by members of the Deaf Community. It observes grammatical rules, lexical organizations, and adheres to the cultural norms of the users’ community. In other words, I communicate through Rwandan Sign Language (RSL), which is the language of the Rwandan Deaf community.

What is the importance of Sign Language interpretation ?

Sign language is as important as any other language, because it is also a channel of information and communication between people, and is not a favour for the deaf community but a right. Therefore, it must be used in education and health services ; in judiciary, meetings/conferences ; TV programs among many others, to enable free interactions and participation of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing citizens. The importance of Sign Language interpretation is therefore to enable deaf persons and hearing persons to communicate and interact with each other.

What is the relevance of Sign Language on RTV during COVID-19 and Kwibuka 26 ?

Under the threat of COVID-19 pandemic, all groups of the population must access reliable information, because it has been made clear that we are all depend on each other. We can infect or contract from each other irrespective of our conditions, nationality or background and the only protection is having appropriate information on the disease symptoms, its mode of transmission and prevention by all including those with the minority mode of communication. Besides, since the outbreak of the disease has coincided with the 26th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, RTV used the opportunity to communicate the related information to the Rwandan Deaf community.

Do all persons with hearing impairment know Sign Language ?

All persons with hearing impairment do not know Rwandan Sign Language or any other. However, they communicate through Simultaneous Communications, or ‘Sim-Com’. It combines lips movements, hand signs and finger spelling that they see around them. It is leap-reading when they get information by observing leaps of a speaker, or Sign Language of Locality when using own hand signs.

Did you receive any feedback from target groups ?

I was getting different messages of appreciation through my mobile phone, saying that they are very happy to follow RTV programs like other Rwandans.

There are also other persons who were curious to know how I learnt Sign Language yet I am not a Deaf. I just told them that I am a teacher and wanted to assist children with hearing impairments who were unfairly marginalized. I therefore decided to learn Sign Language so that I can help in solving the problem.

PR & Community Engagement Officer
Rukara Campus