One of the most ignored sets of people in a society like ours is the community of people living with disabilities. Fortunately, the proper attention and care they deserve are gradually coming to be. This community includes the Deaf – a very special set of people. I have come in contact with a community of them at the Bible Study I attend and they are simply amazing. I am not the only person who has noticed the peculiarities of these people. Wuni Bitrus did too and took it a step further. Together with a Friend, he co-founded the Deaf Technology Foundation. The foundation teaches Deaf Children and Young Adults how to Code and other IT Skills. I had a conversation with Wuni to learn more about the deaf community.
“My name is Wuni Bitrus. I am a Disability Rights Advocate, a software developer and the co-founder and director of Deaf Technology Foundation. I am a board member of World Deaf Tech. Cofounder of African Deaf Tech. I was recently named one of the top 100 CTO/CIO in the world promoting diversity in Tech by the National Diversity Council USA.
I asked Wuni How the “Deaf Technology Foundation” came about and he gave the beautiful story
“In 2014/2015, I met a certain group of children from one family. They usually come for children’s bible club at NCCF family house in Gusau, Zamfara state. I noticed that whenever they came, they left behind their sister who was well within the club’s age range and would have benefited. I asked why she was not coming. ‘Well, She is special’, they replied. ‘Well, ain’t we all special? I asked. The youngest blurted out “SHE IS DEAF” after much hesitation. Hearing this, I jumped on my feet, super excited and insisted on going to see her. They were puzzled probably thinking why anybody will be excited about their sisters’ condition.
At this time, I did not have a background in special education and I did not know sign language. To cut the long story short, I visited her, interacted with the family and after assessing her condition, I was challenged. I decided that night that I was going to dedicate two weeks to learn Sign Language. For this reason, I delved into any material I could find in the field of special education. True to my commitment, after two weeks, I could meaningfully communicate with her. I started teaching her how to use the computer, then Scratch programming”
“Eventually, the Deaf Community in Gusau learnt of a centre that offers computer repair services and programming. Also, they discovered that the owner knows sign language. They started trouping in to seize the opportunity to learn. I mean there was virtually no centre in the whole 36 states of the federation, that offered 21st-century skills training in sign language. Getting to know our business centre was an answered prayer. The immediate challenge was that most of them couldn’t afford to pay and what I had was a business, not a Not-for-profit endeavour.
Eventually, my desire to run a non-profit caused me to shut down the business and return to Jos, the unofficial headquarters of persons with disabilities. I also needed to get a passionate person to work with. I met Pantong Dashwet a graduate of the prestigious Gallaudet University, who was willing to give his all to help his community – the deaf community. That was how The Deaf Technology Foundation came to be. We officially kicked off on the 24th of October 2017 and between the 22nd and 27th of November 2017, we had our first code week”
Wuni went further to share the Vision and Goals of The Deaf Technology Foundation with me
“Our Vision is to build an ecosystem of software developers of ages 9 -12 and STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) experts, empowering them to lead productive lives. The mission in simple terms is to catch them early and equip them with the tools and skills to participate in the digital economy”
Our goals are;
- To empower the Deaf in ICT to help each other grow to become leaders in the industry.
- Provide an enabling environment where the Deaf community can learn, collaborate, be mentored and innovate together.
- Equip them to be employable and employers of labour in ICT/STEM Fields.
- To equip them with the necessary skills needed for the highest-paying jobs in the world.
- To significantly increase the representation of the Deaf in ICT and STEM fields.
Next I asked Wuni how the Journey has Been and if they have been able to accomplish the goals they set out with
“The Journey has been Rewarding in the sense that these young people have superseded not only the societies expectation of them but our expectations too. And that is profound! These were kids that were told they wouldn’t amount to anything, their parents saw them as a waste of resources and society actively discriminated against them. But these same young people are taking up initiatives with limited resources trying to solve the problems they identify in their community using tech. Pheww!! Let me catch a breath here. It is a blessing.
While it has been rewarding, it is NOT without its challenges. Boy oh Boy! There were and still are challenges. Running an NGO isn’t a walk in the park. And when it is without funding, it is almost a mission impossible. We have reached out to 936 deaf students across two states. Presently, we have programming clubs in 4 special schools on the Plateau. We are not yet there but we are right on track achieving the goals we’ve set out to achieve at the onset”
On Challenges, Wuni says the Major Challenge is Funding. Due to growth in size, the current centre is rapidly becoming insufficient.
I was curious about the state of awareness for people living with Disabilities. So I asked Wuni about it and what we could all do to help
“On a scale of one to ten, I will say 0.7. We know they exist but have no clue of what they are going through, talk more about being allies or trying to reduce the inequality so we will improve their lives. Rev. Jesse Jackson once said “The problem is that not that the Deaf do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world wouldn’t listen.” What can we do to better their lives?
- Listen to them.
- Listen to them.
- Listen to them
When we listen to them, we understand them. When we understand them, we are better informed, and then we can work together with them to better their lives”
Wuni’s Last word of advise is Golden. We need to listen to the Deaf and other groups of people’s living with disabilities. When we truly pause and listen to them and see them, then we can all play our parts to make the world a more level playing ground for them.
Thank you for reading and see you on the next episode of the #NAHWC series. You can read previous versions of the series here
Last modified: May 31, 2021