Empowering deaf and mute youth in the MENA region

Sunday 05/06/2016

What makes teaching in Finland so efficient and such an enjoyable experience? The best answer is possibly the use of technology and gaming. People are rightly convinced that children learn better through play and self-discovery, especially in their early years. Students, therefore, feel happy, self-confident and invested in their work. It is even truer for the deaf and mute community, which needs a tailored and innovative type of education.

Today, more than ever, the potential for using technology is endless, as information and communications technology is invading our lives at an unprec­edented rate and drastically transforming our societies. Whether it is smartphones, social networks, the internet of things or virtual reality, nothing embodies social inclusion and success as much as the opportu­nity to continuously reinvent the world with technology. To be part of this world requires specific skills through specific training.

There is increasing awareness that technological skills are foundational and an economic imperative in order to remain competitive. Practically every company, government adminis­tration or institution functions with information and communi­cations technology and is looking for tech-savvy job candidates. Every employer is expected to have some tech skills, such as understanding basic software and graphic design.

When the job market is chal­lenging to those without a disability, how can we possibly empower economically and socially those with a disability, such as members of the deaf and mute community?

There is an extremely high unemployment rate among the deaf and mute (especially female) population in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Most of the time they are considered unskilled workers who can only obtain manual labour jobs. This distressing reality of the social and economic exclusion of the deaf and mute is solely the result of communica­tion barriers, as this population does not present physical or intellectual disabilities.

Bridging the severe economic and social gaps that exist among the deaf and mute can only come through learning and training. One of the best ways to bridge this disparity, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa region, is through acquiring computing skills.

If we take the example of Tunisia, with a community of almost 25,000 deaf and mute, half of whom are girls, there are significantly fewer chances for them to succeed professionally and socially than in Europe or the United States. Learning coding skills and tools such as Ruby, Python, C+ or Java, for instance, could take them to a new level.

International events such as the Finnish Rails Girls experience using Ruby on Rails web applica­tion framework can offer them a technological weapon and make them part of a global community of coders. Through the universal language of computing they can take advantage of the opportuni­ties awaiting them.

A first experience for them to do so was launched May 13th in Sousse, Tunisia, with a group of deaf and mute girls. The launch ceremony was attended by Speaker of the Finnish parlia­ment Maria Lohela and her delegation.

The recent tendency of work trends, such as teleworking or employing contractual consult­ants to perform specific tasks, as well as the increasing amount of work and communication done via e-mail, texting and use of the social media, suggests that the old-fashioned, office-based, traditional work model will be soon almost eradicated. This changes the opportunities’ equation for the deaf and mute, offering them a perfect chance for inclusion.

The alarming lack of economic contribution and professional and social exclusion of popula­tions such as the deaf and mute, should be a major concern. Communication gaps and lack of imagination to set up inclusive programmes infer a missed opportunity to benefit from their untapped pool of talent and creativity. Playful coding can ensure a brighter future towards innovation, inspiration and economic empowerment. By providing the right path towards coding and computing, we can change the equation.