'Can you hear me now?'

'Can you hear me now?'

Deaf community lobbies for interpreters, other rights

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 27, 2011

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THE Jamaican deaf community is disgruntled with the non-implementation of programmes to get them involved in matters of national development, as well as with the discrimination they encounter from the hearing public on a daily basis.

At a presentation Friday on the grounds of the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), under the theme 'Can you hear me now?' members of the community spoke out against the lack of interpreters in public places like police stations, businessplaces and in the news media.

Citing the example of the inauguration of the new prime minister some weeks ago, youth ambassador for disabilities Tamara McKayle said the lack of consideration for the deaf was evident in society as no interpreter was provided so the deaf could hear the prime minister's speech and understand what was happening.

"We are lobbying for a national disabilities act," McKayle told the group of mostly deaf persons through an interpreter.

"We need to have interpreters in businessplaces. If you go to a police station the police cannot understand the deaf 'cause there is no one there to interpret for them. At the inaugural speech of the prime minister the deaf could not understand 'cause no one was there to interpret," she said.

"We want the media to have interpreters."

She said the disabilities act would make it compulsory for these things to be put in place.

Cassandra Whyte, who beat out 22 others and was crowned Miss Deaf International 2011 in Orlando, Florida in July — after walking away with the Miss Deaf Jamaica crown in December last year — reminded persons that despite being deaf, they had rights similar to those of hearing persons.

"You have to know what it is you want and what it is you want to fight for," Whyte said through interpreter Steve Goodwich. "Is it that you want (driver's) licence? Is it that you need to have interpretative services? Is it that you want to talk to the police? We want rights, and persons in the deaf community are not really standing up for themselves."

Deaf psychologist Shirley Lee, meanwhile, brought to light two words proposed to be added to the English dictionary, 'audism' and 'deafism'.

"A simple definition of 'audism' would be that it is a negative or oppressive attitude towards deaf people by either deaf or hearing people and organisations, and a failure to accommodate them," Lee explained.

An example of it is the refusal or failure to use sign language in the presence of a sign language dependent person. It is cited as discrimination against the deaf for which there should be a lawsuit, they said.

'Deafism', on the other hand, is internal discrimination of persons in the deaf community. It is defined as a form of bigotry against certain deaf people not perceived to be 'deaf enough' by other deaf persons who are not considered to be culturally deaf. The 'deafism' form of oppression is also aimed at those who have spent too much time with the hearing people.

The purpose of Friday's forum was to show support for the human rights of the JASL's deaf/hearing impaired/hard of hearing clients and to discuss the challenges that arise from the cultural stigma and discrimination by hearing persons.

There were video testimonials from deaf persons pointing towards the various challenges they have been experiencing since childhood and how they have struggled through them.

Jamaica School of Drama faculty member and member of the Jamaica Alternative Theatre Pierre LeMaire said the deaf needed to push to achieve a prominent status in society.

"Miss Deaf Jamaica should not just be 'Miss Deaf Jamaica'. She is intelligent and pretty enough to be 'Miss Jamaica'," he stated.

He told the deaf that they were strong but that they have to show this to the rest of the society, especially since the hearing community, for the most part, do not give them a chance to achieve and show their full potential.

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