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MTN drives acknowledgment and inclusivity of the deaf community with bespoke music tracks

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Deafness is one of the largest prevailing disabilities in South Africa with more than four million people living with a hearing disability or difficulty. Of great concern is that these individuals do not have the same access to many services, including emergency medical and fire services, that hearing individuals do.

“South Africa recognises Deaf Awareness Month in September each year, and while this is a very important initiative, the investment into people living with hearing challenges can’t end there,” says Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs at MTN SA.

“At MTN we are committed to connecting all South Africans for good, and to drive a truly inclusive digital society we can’t disregard the estimated 500,000 to 600,000 women, men and children who are deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired and use South African Sign Language (SASL) as their first language. Neither can we only recognise their plight for a few days a year,” continues O’Sullivan.

DefBars Presented by MTN

With this in mind MTN recently produced DefBars, a bespoke music track using SASL for the hard-of-hearing and/or deaf community. Working with SA rapper The LazarusMan, who specifically learnt sign language for the project, the aim of the track is to increase awareness of SASL and to promote the learning of the language amongst the hearing community.

The lyrics are all signed and can only be understood if you know SASL or are prepared to learn the basics.

The track was mastered by Hey Papa Legend to ensure that the vibration within it can be ‘heard’ by deaf South Africans, and the music video was filmed with the supervision of St Vincent’s School for the Deaf to ensure that all the signs were visible and understood.

While the track was well-received, there was an influx of positive criticism from within the deaf community and MTN felt compelled to move on to develop Phase 2 of Defbars– a remix of the track with Glen: The Rapper, an up-and-coming rapper from within the deaf community, who put his own spin on its presentation.

The remixed track highlights the subtle differences between a hearing person’s interpretation of SASL and how a hard-of-hearing person would interpret the hand gestures.

 “Taking on the community’s feedback after launching the LazarusMan track late last year, we decided to work with Glen to create a track that was more authentic to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in South Africa”, says O’Sullivan. “While we learnt a lot about the differences in sign-language presentation and interpretation from individual to individual, our aim remained the same – to connect all South Africans and enable them to understand each other so as to communicate efficiently and effectively”.

“Knowing how to communicate in all South African languages, including SASL, should be a goal for all. Our hope is that these tracks highlight the need for all South Africans to attempt to learn the language, and at the very least open up a conversation around inclusivity that makes the hard-of-hearing community feel heard,” concludes O’Sullivan.

As an offshoot from the DefBars project, MTN developed a USSD version of their emergency services line which allows hard-of-hearing and deaf South Africans, or those that cannot speak over the phone for any reason, to still have access to the same services that all hearing South Africans benefit from. 

These services include voice-free access to the South African Police Service and emergency medical and fire services.

Follow these easy steps to access MTN’s Emergency USSD Service:

  • Save the following number *130*3272*29# as a contact on your phone under MTN 112 or a name you will remember for emergencies;
  • When you are in an emergency, call that number and select the service option. An SMS message will be sent to the MTN 112 Emergency Contact Centre who will be in communication with the client via SMS within the agreed emergency service-level timelines.

The music videos can be viewed here:

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