Ugandan online TV bridges information gap for the deaf

·2 min read

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) - When Susan Mujawa Ananda heard a deaf man had been shot and wounded in Uganda for breaking a curfew during the pandemic his family said he knew nothing about, she resolved to set up an online television channel for deaf people.

"The reason why he was shot ... is because he didn't know what was happening in the country. He didn't know that there was a curfew," Ananda, a sign language interpreter, told Reuters.

Late last year, she teamed up with a deaf friend, Simon Eroku, and after winning a grant they founded SignsTV, which runs news bulletins for deaf people, delivered by deaf people.

Slightly over a million people in Uganda, out of a total population of about 45 million, have a hearing disability and most of them have limited access to TV news due to a lack of sign language services on established channels.

The new station, which made its first broadcast in April and employs eight staff including four deaf anchors, operates from a studio in a Kampala suburb.

In a typical broadcast on SignsTV Uganda, the news is read by two deaf anchors and simultaneously signed by a sign language interpreter, going slowly to match the anchor's pace, while the screen also carries subtitles.

The deaf man whose story moved Ananda to act, was shot in the leg in a village in northern Uganda in April 2020, by a member of the Local Defence Unit (LDU), a para military force that sometimes operates alongside regular police and the military. His leg later had to be amputated. Police at the time told local media they would investigate. They were not available for new comment on the case.

For now, SignsTV Uganda produces only one weekly news roundup on Saturdays due to financial, staffing and technical constraints, but Ananda said it had ambitions to expand its offer. Up to about 800 viewers have watched individual bulletins so far and the numbers are growing.

"We want to have sports, we want to have talkshows, we want to have news," she said, adding music could also be a possibility.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa, Estelle Shirbon, Alexandra Hudson)