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Kenya: Judy Kihumba, a sign language interpreter committed to helping deaf mothers

Judy Kihumba is a Kenyan sign language interpreter passionate for the mental health of deaf mothers. She interprets in maternity hospitals to provide basic medical information to pregnant and breastfeeding deaf women. As the founder of “Talking Hands, Listening Eyes”, she was named in 2022 in the BBC’s list of the “100 most Inspiring women in the world”.

Today, Judy Kihumba is one of the leading figures committed to promoting health services for deaf mothers in Kenya. Although she is not deaf, the Kenyan went to secondary school at the Muhoro School for Deaf due to her family’s inability to finance her studies at another secondary school. It was within this school that she learned sign language, interacting with her classmates. Over time, she developed a passion for this language.

She then joined the Sign Language Research Centre at the University of Nairobi, where she further honed her skills. She then went on to Saint Paul University and obtained a degree in development communication and public relations. She also earned a diploma in trauma counselling.

A career as a sign language interpreter

After secondary school, she got a job at the United Disability Empowerment in Kenya (UDEK) association. An experience that introduced her to the disability world. In 2010, she was selected as one of the experts committee chosen to tour the country to raise awareness of the new constitution and encourage constant interaction with deaf communities. During this experience, several NGOs contacted her to interpret their civic education content in sign language. She also produced several advertisements in sign language, including awareness-raising commercials during the Covid 19 outbreak.

She then launched the “Talking Hands Listening Eyes” initiative, which aims to support deaf mothers by acting as a bridge between them and health workers, enabling them to benefit from better medical care. She is currently also working with the Pumwani Maternity Hospital to ensure that deaf mothers have access to medical care and that information is adapted to their level of understanding.

During her career, she also had the opportunity to interpret for the late Kenyan President Daniel Moi.

In 2022, she was named in the BBC’s list of the “100 most Inspiring women in the world”.