In South Africa, a country where four-fifths of the population have historically been disadvantaged in terms of education and economic opportunity, people who are deaf or hard of hearing are an especially marginalized group. eDeaf, a small company with a big mission, is tackling this problem. Through participation in the Microsoft® IT Academy program, eDeaf is offering these people industry-relevant skills and certification as a path to meaningful employment, financial empowerment, and independence.
Given limited education and skills training, South Africa’s population of people who are deaf or hard of hearing struggles mightily to find work in a country where the national unemployment rate is 22 percent and nearly 10 million people are out of work. Those who provide services to this disadvantaged population estimate that of the half million or so people who use sign language as their first language, two of every three are jobless. Many of these citizens live in informal settlements outside cities, often in poverty. Forced to subsist on monthly government disability grants of 1,100 rand (about U.S.$109), they typically depend on family members for housing and financial support.
South Africa’s deaf community has been marginalized further by limited access to education. The most glaring example is the generation of adults who received an unequal education before apartheid was abolished in 1991. Educational disparities persist today. Of the 44 South African schools for people who are deaf, only 10 are academically focused; the rest focus on practical skills.
||Our focus is to help people who are unemployed to empower themselves through education
and training, especially in the IT field…. We equip them to reach a level where we can employ them, starting out as data capturers, to Web designers, to IT technicians—whatever their scope is within the Microsoft IT Academy program.
Managing Member, eDeaf
Such statistics spell an urgent need to increase education and skills training, according to Employ and Empower Deaf (eDeaf). Recognizing that the IT industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors within South Africa, eDeaf has launched a project focused on IT training as a step toward a better future for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
eDeaf serves the unemployed people in this community with a staff of nine, of whom Jesse Kotze, Managing Member of eDeaf, is the only hearing person. About 80 percent of eDeaf’s clients are 18 to 35 years old; the rest are people 35 to 60 who want to work.
For access to technology education resources, eDeaf turned to the Microsoft® IT Academy program. The program offers eDeaf a range of benefits, from an extensive e-learning portfolio and skills curricula to industry certifications that emphasize real-world experience. “Our focus is to help people who are unemployed to empower themselves through education and training, especially in the IT field, whereby they come in and train themselves at no cost,” Kotze says. “We equip them to reach a level where we can employ them, starting out as data capturers, to Web designers, to IT technicians—whatever their scope is within the Microsoft IT Academy program.”
Training begins with the Microsoft Digital Literacy curriculum, which provides essential PC skills for learners who are new to computing. eDeaf clients then move into training that leads to Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) or Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification. Kotze says those entry-level certifications demonstrate to prospective employers that eDeaf clients are proficient Microsoft-qualified users. Under the IT Academy program, eDeaf receives discounted vouchers from Microsoft to help pay for certification exams.
Training is provided in an environment that is accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. People are taught by three on-staff, qualified IT instructors, another resource available through IT Academy. Trainers support students with sign language as needed.
eDeaf is also in discussions with South Africa’s Sectoral Education Training Authorities (SETAs), which focus on skills training for industry sectors such as banking, IT, services, wholesale, and retail. Kotze says a partnership between eDeaf and the IT SETA could open up opportunities with businesses that require higher qualifications. If that happens, eDeaf would use IT Academy resources to add more Microsoft certifications to its training program.
eDeaf became an IT Academy member in 2008, joining at the Essential level, but it expects to move to the Advanced level within the next several years.
“As the business grows and as our clients grow into the e-learning system within Microsoft IT Academy, we will move up into the higher level, get more qualified trainers on board, and continue to take our training further,” Kotze says.
The first 12 students have completed their IT skills training at eDeaf and have begun finding jobs. eDeaf is seeing initial success in the healthcare and government sectors but is working to open doors wherever employers need well-trained IT staff. Kotze hopes eDeaf can train 200 people in its first year and believes that access to high-quality, credible training will offer them an advantage in the labor market.
“A person who finishes the IT training provided through IT Academy will earn a certification that is accepted internationally,” he says. “And with the Microsoft brand attached to it, that gives the person extra recognition and authority. It stipulates, ‘I can do what’s expected of me.’ It gives people a step up above others when they apply for a job.”
More important, Kotze says, is the sense of purpose and empowerment that such training instills. It gives people the opportunity to get jobs—jobs they want, jobs that pay well, jobs that fit their culture, and jobs they can excel in. He describes it as a path out of the poverty cycle and into meaningful employment and independence.
“It’s the sense that ‘I now have the tools to take me to a different level where I can improve myself,’” Kotze explains. “That’s the biggest benefit. We are teaching people how to equip themselves to go out and live their dreams.”
He adds that eDeaf’s IT training also benefits employers because trained workers help increase productivity.