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Deaf tourism growing and Sandals is listening

BY KENDRA JOHNSON

Monday, December 16, 2013    

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SANDALS Resorts International recently hosted the Caribbean's largest recorded organised group of deaf American tourists at its Sandals Negril resort in Westmoreland.

During their one-week stay at the resort, the 22 deaf Americans visited several of the island's historical sites, shopping centres and water attractions.

The connection between the local tourism sector and the visiting group was forged through a long-standing partnership between Global Deaf Connection (GDC) and the Sandals Foundation. Both entities have been working with Junior Achievement Jamaica, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of Education to provide support for programmes geared at improving access to education and employability of Jamaica's deaf, as well as preparing hotel workers to offer quality service to deaf and hard-of-hearing travellers.

As part of the collaborative initiative, teachers catering to the deaf and other individuals living with deafness are hosted at Sandals, Beaches and Grand Pineapple Resorts for training and curriculum-development workshops. Sessions are also convened with hearing-impaired resort staff and hearing employees, who receive training in sign language and other related areas. In preparation for the arrival of the group in December, managers and other staff members at Sandals Negril underwent additional private sign language training.

"Sandals Negril was perfectly positioned to be the first resort to capture this previously underutilised and potentially lucrative market," stated Joel Runnels, GDC's director. "The property is the only one in the Caribbean to have hired and trained as many as five deaf team members, along with a professional teacher of the deaf, all of whom provide seamless communication in sign language for deaf guests from around the world. They, along with what the Sandals Foundation has been doing, keep the company firmly at the forefront of innovation in the Caribbean's tourism sector," he said.

James Noschese, a retired deaf teacher from Pittsburgh marvelled at the progressive achievement: "I have travelled around the world and with all that I have seen and done at my age, I have to say I'm very impressed by access for the deaf at Sandals. It's so positive that Sandals has hired deaf Jamaicans to work in some of its hotels. I found the staff in Negril to be incredibly friendly and also skilled in everything they do. It all made for a wonderful stay in Jamaica."

The deaf group also volunteered to role model 'work readiness' for deaf children with the Sandals Foundation and Junior Achievement Jamaica/USAID project entitled "Supporting Workforce Training and Development for the Deaf Community in Jamaica".

Under the auspices of this project, the deaf Americans generously donated time, educational resources and money to the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf, where they mentored the deaf children and shared testimonials about how studying in school leads to gainful employment and economic success

in the working world. The deaf children, in turn, shared their professional aspirations.

"We all loved the presentation they made because it was very practical, especially for the older students who saw how deaf people can and should transition from school into work. I sincerely thank them for the resources they brought, it certainly came at a time we really need it," said Dian Thompson, principal of the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf.

Over the years, the Sandals Foundation work with the deaf has provided free of charge hearing ear exams and hearing aids to over 200 deaf residents of Antigua. Since 2011, the philanthropic organisation, along with USAID and Junior Achievement Jamaica has supported the "Workforce Training and Development for the Deaf Community in Jamaica" project to expand access to education and employment for deaf students by introducing specialised work-readiness curricula at islandwide schools/units for the deaf.

Kerstin's Deaf Travel, an American business that specialises in worldwide tour experiences for the deaf, and which was the key organiser of the visit to the island, along with Sandals and Junior Achievement Jamaica, are already planning to host a second and possibly larger group of deaf guests at another Sandals property. A second school for the deaf in Jamaica will be supported during this visit in 2014.

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