Dear President Museveni,
On June 14, Finance minister Matia Kasaija will read the national budget for the financial year 2018/19.
Earlier, on March 12, 2018, you ordered him to tax social media, especially WhatsApp and Facebook, because you believe a lot of gossip takes place on these platforms.
On May 30, 2018 the Parliament of Uganda passed the daily Shs 200 charge on social media! Mr President, your decision is not inclusive as it did not consider the different age groups.
As a deaf person, I will talk about how the tax on social media is going to affect me and the estimated 1.3 million deaf persons in Uganda.
First, access to communication and information has remained a big obstacle in mainstreaming deaf persons in different development programs in the country. Though sign language was recognized in 1995 by including it in the national constitution, almost nothing has been made to develop and promote the use and respect of sign language in Uganda.
As a result, deaf Ugandans remain cut off in terms of access to information and essential services such as health and education, which is an abuse of their rights.
Most work around sign language has been done by NGOs. It has been a challenge for the deaf to access educative messages/ information on health, education, agriculture, transport, etc. For example, Your Excellency, you have never used a sign language interpreter, neither attempted to make your State of the Nation address or budget reading accessible to deaf persons.
Thanks to development in ICT, with WhatsApp and Facebook, deaf persons were starting to access information through appropriating their smartphones.
Given the fact that majority of deaf persons have never been to school (80 per cent), they hardly read and write. So, with innovations in WhatsApp and Facebook, deaf persons have been making short films in sign language and then sharing with friends.
The smartphones have strengthened their social networks in which literate deaf persons translate public information into short films in sign language and then disseminate through their ‘Deaf’ WhatsApp and Facebook groups.
This method is not cheap, Mr President; it takes a lot of internet data. However, they have been ‘funding’ each other in their desperate desire to ensure that their deaf colleagues, especially those who never went to school, are not left behind.
Through this method, many deaf persons have been following new developments around the world. To them, being on social media platforms is not gossip but a matter of being informed and getting the much-needed information to make informed decisions.
I recently sent out a WhatsApp message to seven deaf persons for a meeting and I asked them to invite others especially those who did not own a phone.
The meeting, which was to take place within two days, had 196 deaf participants! Having seen WhatsApp and Facebook as a good alternative source of information, deaf persons have formed Facebook and WhatsApp groups aimed at keeping them informed and updated.
The most popular ones being The Deaf Parliament of Uganda and Deaf Youth Council of Uganda. It is through these WhatsApp groups that deaf persons got to know about hepatitis B which saw hundreds of deaf persons flock Kololo to be immunized.
Mr President, the tax on WhatsApp and Facebook will make it expensive for the deaf. As they have been discussing on their platforms, the majority are considering leaving social media. This does not only affect them but it will also affect your government in serving deaf persons.
Mr President, I end by requesting you to take this matter as one of urgent concern. You may think about working with Uganda Communications Commission and telecommunication companies to improve access to information by deaf persons.
You may also need to exempt deaf persons from paying the proposed tax as a measure to promote access to information by deaf persons.
The writer is your supporter who has been voting you for inclusive services in vain!