In Mali, there are roughly 2,700 health practitioners serving a population of over 10 million. Most Malians learn about good public health practices from family, neighbors, and volunteer educators. This is a problem for deaf individuals because many Malians view deafness as an inability to speak, not an inability to hear. Hearing individuals rarely learn any form of sign language so understanding why certain things make people sick is very difficult for the marginalized Deaf community. There are over 200,000 deaf individuals in Mali who are in need of public health information.Our fall project will initiate a three-way partnership between L’Ecole Deficient Auditif in Bamako, Mali, the Texas School for the Deaf, and the American Sign Language Department at UT-Austin. Students in Austin and Mali will prepare videos for each other addressing health issues faced by both groups, and incorporating educational information provided by the project organizers. The experience of producing the videos will provide the students with practical information and instruction in good health practices, safe sex, and HIV-STI awareness, in a manner that is responsive to the specific challenges faced by Deaf youth. Health materials like antibacterial soap, condoms, or basic wound care kits will supplement the theme of each film.
This cultural exchange has the potential to spread throughout the six schools for the Deaf in Mali to other nations where American Sign Language adapted for Francophone West Africa is also used.