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Iono - Behind the Bulletins

DEAF DRIVERS ON OUR ROADS By Natasha Diergaardt

When Vilho Kandume drives Ministry of Works and Transport vehicles, nothing about his appearance betrays the fact that he is deaf.
 
He is one of about 17 454 Namibians with a hearing impairment (Namibia Intercensal Demographic Survey 2016 Report) and among very few deaf people licensed to drive a car.
 
Many people do not know that the deaf are allowed to drive legally. They assume that simply because deaf people cannot hear sirens and car horns, they are most likely to be the liable party in case of car accidents due to their supposedly compromised ability to drive.
 
Kandume feels saddened that people with hearing abilities often undermine the Deaf, thinking they cannot be good workers or drivers because they cannot hear.
“I can see their negative attitudes towards me when they find out I am deaf,” he told Nampa through Namibian Sign Language interpreter Selma Moses.
 
He legally became a licensed driver in 1989 and has been in the employ of the Ministry of Works and Transport since 2013 as a driver, delivering documents to various Government agencies and driving Government visitors.
 
Kandume, who knows of 10 other deaf people who can also drive legally, said the Deaf have a great sense of responsibility and there are very few of them who have been caught driving drunk, as they are always cautious to adhere to the rules of the road.
Asked how he deals with sirens from emergency service vehicles, he indicated that he is always alert and vigilant to spot such vehicles by frequently checking his mirrors to ensure that he becomes fully aware of all movements outside the car. 
 
When it comes to his ability to notice mechanical faults on the car, he said he relies mainly on the vibrations caused by the engine. Additionally, he frequently glances at the dashboard to see if there are any emergency lights flickering.
 
Kandume said he does not usually experience problems at roadblocks, even though most police officers at these roadblocks are almost always surprised to learn that he drives a vehicle whilst deaf.
 
Namibian Police Force (NamPol) spokesperson, Chief Inspector Kaunapawa Shikwambi told this agency upon enquiry that they do not have any official statistics on the number of deaf drivers involved in accidents.
 
She said the force does not have any reservations when it comes to deaf drivers on the roads, adding that “any offender will be dealt with in accordance with the law”.
 
NamPol has at least two officers per region trained in introductory Namibian Sign Language, and plans are underway to further their training depending on the availability of funds.
 
“The only challenge is that we do not have enough trained members to deploy across all road traffic checkpoints, or participate in all police crime prevention operations. However, they are always consulted and are available whenever their services are required,” Shikwambi said.
 
The senior police officer further said recommendations can always be made to the relevant offices, including the Ministry of Works and Transport, to have more members of the force trained in sign language and deployed accordingly.
 
Another deaf driver, Josea Iipinge, said through his colleague and sign language interpreter, Lizette Beukes, he knows about 40 deaf people, mostly men, who can drive.
 
He does not know whether they all have driver’s licences and neither does the Roads Authority (RA).
 
RA spokesperson Hileni Fillemon acknowledged that the Namibian Traffic Information System (NaTIS) – the body responsible for issuing licences to successful learner drivers - does not have statistics of deaf drivers because they are not classified as differently-abled by the law.
 
“Deaf people are regarded as normal drivers,” she pointed out, adding that the RA does not make a clear distinction on people’s driver’s licence cards or cars that they are deaf. 
 
Iipinge, a teacher’s assistant at the Centre for Communication and Deaf Studies (CCDS) in the capital, got his licence in Windhoek in 2006 on his second attempt. Both times, he had no interpreter to help him communicate with the NaTIS officials during the tests - they used basic hand gestures to communicate.
 
Learner driver’s tests, at the time, were done orally but Iipinge and Kandume were allowed to do theirs in writing.
Fillemon conceded that NaTIS does not have permanent sign language interpreters.
 
“However, the learner’s licence test is conducted in writing and for the driving licence test, a route is drawn up in advance to indicate to the applicant where to turn and drive during the test. Hand signals are also used to direct the applicant if they have forgotten the route,” she explained.
 
Iipinge only communicates with his passengers when the car is not in motion, and he too checks his mirrors regularly while driving to observe activities outside the car and pick up on mechanical problems from the way the car vibrates.
 
Iipinge prides himself on never having been involved in an accident as a driver.
 
Beukes mentioned that Iipinge is one of the best drivers she knows. “He is observant and is always the first to see something in the road,” she said, adding that deaf people’s other senses, especially their vision, are heightened.
 
Iipinge advised other deaf people who would like to get their licences that they are no different from someone who can hear and that they too have the right to drive cars.
 
Beata Armas, who is also deaf and works at CCDS, got her licence on her fourth attempt in January 2018. She was dismayed at the fact that there was no interpreter provided by NaTIS for her tests. 
 
The third time she went, she paid an interpreter to assist with communication during the driver’s test.
 
Armas, Iipinge and Kandume insist that NaTIS should foot the bill for interpreters, some of whom charge N.dollars 500 per hour.
Queried about this, Fillemon said currently, the number of deaf applicants does not warrant the appointment of a permanent interpreter; “however, this can be looked at in the future”.
 
Armas was quick to put people who feel uncomfortable about deaf drivers on the road at ease, saying the deaf “hear with their eyes, follow the rules and generally drive well.”
 
Deputy Minister of Disability Affairs, Alexia Manombe-Ncube agreed, saying driving is mostly a visual activity.
 
“Hearing-impaired drivers have a heightened sense of sight and better peripheral vision. Since they depend on it to compensate for the hearing loss, their sight is enhanced,” Manombe-Ncube stated.
 
She explained that deaf drivers are alert to any visual cues whilst driving such as noticing other drivers’ movements to the side of the road, which indicates that an emergency vehicle is approaching or that a motorcade is approaching and they must pull over.
 
The deputy minister suggested, among others, advocacy for the incorporation of sign language as one of the national languages of Namibia to ensure that at public and private service points sign language interpretation is made available, just like other languages' interpretation.
 
Manombe-Ncube added that communities need to stop “dissing” (disrespecting) people with disabilities.
 
“We need to flip the word ‘disability’ and start focusing on the ‘ABILITY’,” hence her office’s ‘Don’t Dis-my Ability campaign’, which aims to educate communities not to focus on the disability, but on the person.
 
With Namibia ranked as one of the countries with the highest number of road accidents, maybe hearing drivers can actually learn something from deaf drivers. With a little more caution and attentiveness, many lives can be saved.
(NAMPA)

Astrophysics Research with Namibian participation coined “2017 Breakthrough of the Year” – twice!

Following the first detection of Gravitational Waves by the LIGO Collaboration in 2016, the key researchers behind the project were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in October 2017. Despite what one may think, this was the very successful and well-recognized end of a long (scientific) journey. It was, indeed, only the beginning of the new era of Multi-Messenger Astronomy.
 
Astronomy, as everyone knows, uses visual light, ever since Galileo first used a telescope to point it at the stars some 400 years ago. During the last century, other forms (scientifically: wavelengths) of light like gamma rays, X-rays, Ultraviolet and Infrared radiation, as well as microwaves or, more generally, radio waves, have also been used to study the Universe. Radio telescopes are particularly en vogue in Africa as mankind‘s largest astronomical endeavour is being built on the African continent: the Square Kilometre Array, SKA. The form of light being used for astronomical observations most recently are very high energy gamma rays as observed by the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) in Namibia. After the first detection of those gamma rays in 1989, H.E.S.S., being a second generation telescope system, is operating in the Khomas Highlands since 2003 and has been awarded several scientific merits since.
 
Now that Scientists can regularly detect and pinpoint the origin of gravitational waves, which are vastly distinct from any form of light, the era of not just multi-wavelength, but even multi-messenger astronomy has truly begun. The two different messengers (light and gravitational waves) combined can reveal much deeper insights into the most violent phenomena in the Universe.
 
Exactly this happened when, on 17 August 2017, gravitational waves were detected from the collision of two ultra-dense remains of giant starts, called neutron-stars. As soon as the automatic data analysis procedures had spotted something interesting going on, a message was sent around the world to collaborating observatories to complement this gravitational wave detection with as much coverage by as many different telescopes as possible. Excitement in the international astronomy community grew even further as the Fermi-Gamma-ray Space Telescope as well as ESA's INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) detected a short outbreak of gamma rays (a Gamma-Ray Burst) from the same direction, about 2 seconds afterwards.
 
In an unprecedented way, more than 70 observatories around the world followed the call for co-observations, amongst them, the H.E.S.S. telescopes. Of all telescopes that cannot see a large fraction of the sky all at once, i.e. that needed to be pointed to the position determined by LIGO, the H.E.S.S. telescopes were the first to observe in the direction of the event.
 
This enormous international effort, along with the rich set of information about merging neutron-stars and their connection to gamma-ray bursts, as well as this multi-messenger observation truly being the first of its kind, made the UK Institute of Physics (IOP) journal Physics World award the international team of scientists the “Physics World 2017 Breakthrough of the Year” award on 11 December 2017. On 21 December, the multi-disciplinary and, arguably, most-renowned scientific journal in the world, Science also named the very same observation “2017 Breakthrough of the Year”.
 
These awards also particularly emphasise the collaborative nature of “big science” these days. “The explosion was easily the most studied event in the history of astronomy, with 3674 researchers from 953 institutions collaborating on a single paper summarizing the merger and its aftermath”, states Science, whereas Physics World is even more explicit in saying that the award was deliberately “given to thousands of scientists working in nearly 50 collaborations worldwide.” Further, they believe that this observation “is a shining example of how our knowledge of the universe can move forwards when people from all over the world join together with a common scientific cause.”
 
In this big international effort, Namibia was represented by 4 staff members of the Department of Physics at UNAM joined by Namibian PhD students at Humboldt University Berlin (Germany) and North-West University (SA).
 
The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) is a system of four 12 metre and one 28 metre diameter telescopes, situated in the Khomas Highlands about 120 km south-west of Windhoek. The telescopes are operated by an international collaboration of more than 250 researchers from 13 countries. The University of Namibia (UNAM) is a member of the H.E.S.S. collaboration since its inception. Currently, there are 3 Namibian PhD and 2 MSc students conducting their research in the context of H.E.S.S and gamma-ray astronomy in the Department of Physics at UNAM. Out of the more than 3,600 authors from 953 institutes of the honoured observation, 5 are based in Namibia at UNAM.

Week in Review - 27 January 2018

Namibia's high level of Gender Based Violence was once again highlighted this week as we learnt that a 25 year old woman had been shot and killed, allegedly by her boyfriend, who is a soldier based at the Osona military base, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology also revealed that they had produced a 30 minute short-film on the topic of GBV, meanwhile a farmer from the Aranos area was found guilty of having shot and killed his wife in 2010. There was good news for the country as it was reported that Walvis Bay Salt Refiners have secured a buyer in the United States of America. The Bankers Association of Namibia also announced that they were joining hands with 'Writers of Hope' and would be collecting stationery and school supplies for the less fortunate in all participating bank branches up until the culmination of their drive which will see street collections taking place in Windhoek on February 22nd.
 
South Africans, and indeed people all across the planet, were saddened on Tuesday by the news that legendary musician Hugh Masakela had died following a long battle against prostate cancer, the country also however rejoiced in the news that the world seemed to be taking a more positive view of them as good news filtered back from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the Rand continued to show unprecedented strength against the US dollar. Court cases dominated the news this week as both Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini and Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu were put under the spotlight for their roles in the Sassa and Life Esidimini scandals respectively, meanwhile there were renewed protests at OverVaal Hoerskool and the fight against Gupta-linked corruption intensified as the Hawks conducted search and seizure operations relating to the Vrede Dairy matter. 
 
Elsewhere in Africa former international footballer George Weah was sworn in as the new president of Liberia amid high expectations of change, Gem Diamonds in Lesotho announced that they had discovered yet another large high quality diamond, and Zimbabwe's new president continued to say all the right things and impress many people while attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. There was bad news too though as Egypt continued its clampdown on the LGBT community, arresting another 10 people and bringing to 85 the total number reported to have been arrested since September last year, tensions continued to grow between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter's Grand Renaissance Dam project on the upper Nile river, Chad saw renewed anti-austerity unrest, and the UN expressed concern over the deaths of at least 7 people in Ethiopia.
 
Internationally the Philippines' Mount Mayon volcano continued to threaten a massive eruption while there were several earthquakes recorded across the so-called 'Ring of Fire' as well as off the coast of the United States. French prison guards extended their strike over calls for more resources, especially in light of the increased number of radical Islamists under their watch, a German nurse already serving two life sentences for murder was indicted in nearly 100 more killings, Donald Trump got serious with his 'America First' promise ahead of his trip to Davos by imposing new tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels, Britain's competition regulator ruled that a Fox takeover of Sky was “not in the public's best interest”, and the charity 'Save the Children' temporarily suspended operations in Afghanistan following an ISIS claimed attack on their Jalalabad office.
 
The world this week also lost science fiction pioneer Ursula K. le Guin but gained a set of identical macaque monkeys following the first successful cloning of primates ever done.