Sign language interpreters, Ms Mereseini Dimama and Ms Orelia Kava-Susu, arrived at the TV studio at 5:30 p.m. to provide sign language interpretation of the daily evening news bulletins broadcast nationwide by one of the key TV news channels in Fiji. The pre-recording of business and sports news was followed by the main newscast and the sign language interpretation continued live with the news. Another team of interpreters were at the other major national TV news station doing the same.
For Fiji, this is the first time the daily evening news has included sign language interpretation on a regular basis. It started in April, when Fiji was at the height of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The TV news was made accessible to the deaf community following a request from the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji.
Government announcements on COVID-19-related updates were conducted frequently in April. Information on critical issues such as nationwide curfews, new cases of COVID-19, locations of lockdowns, locations and availability of fever clinics, was able to reach the deaf community because of the presence of sign language interpretation on the evening news. In addition, during and after the severe Tropical Cyclone Harold that hit Fiji in April, life-saving information on the forecasts, warnings and evacuation centres was made accessible to deaf persons through the sign language.
The Policy Brief: A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19 launched by the United Nations in May this year, identified key areas of actions including “Ensuring accessibility of facilities, services and information is fundamental to a disability inclusive COVID-19 response and recovery.”
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Fiji is party to, recognizes and promotes the use of sign languages. Articles 9 and 21 of the Convention aim to strive for the elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility to information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services. The Fijian Constitution promotes the right of the persons with disabilities to have reasonable access to information and use of sign language.
The Fiji Association of the Deaf (FAD) and the Sign Language Interpreters Association Fiji work in tandem to ensure information reaches deaf persons and their right to access to information is respected. 38 deaf and hearing interpreters carry out work like Ms Dimama and Ms Kava-Susu: some are full-time special school teachers, some work at hospitals, and six of them are freelancers, providing interpretation for court sessions, legal representation at corrections centres, in church services and at private events. These interpreters take up multiple assignments and work every day, seven days a week, throughout the whole year.
The Fiji Association of the Deaf, a civil society organization (CSO), promotes and protects the deaf community’s access to justice through a grant programme provided by UNDP’s Fiji Access to Justice project, which is funded by the European Union. As part of the project’s Civil Society Organization engagement, four CSOs including the Fiji Association of the Deaf, were selected through a competitive process to receive grants to provide justice support services.
The Fiji Association of the Deaf and the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation, with which the Fiji Association of the Deaf is affiliated, have recently started collaborating on an awareness raising TV programme, supported through the grant. ‘Justice for All’ is a 13-episode TV series and the first ever TV programme broadcast nationwide in Fiji that fully focuses on the rights of persons with different types of disabilities and their cultures.
In one of the episodes, FAD President and Acting Office Manager Ms. Melita Delaibau said, “I am glad that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, sign language interpreters came forward, as access to information was critical for us.”
“I would like to ask members of the public and the media to please come to us so we can provide sign language interpreters,” added Ms Delaibau.
The UN General Assembly has proclaimed 23 September as the International Day of Sign Languages in order to raise awareness of the importance of sign language in the full realization of the human rights of people who are deaf. In Fiji, FAD organizes a cerebration to commemorate the day every year.
The Fiji Access to Justice Project, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by UNDP, supports access to justice, in particular for impoverished and vulnerable groups. It does so by empowering people to access their legal rights and services, strengthening key justice institutions to deliver improved services, and strengthening the capacity of CSOs to deliver justice accompaniment services, with a special focus on supporting persons with disabilities and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Tomoko Kashiwazaki, Communications and Advocacy Specialist, Effective Governance Programme, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji; email: email@example.com; tel: +679 331 2500 | +679 715 8051