The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Maude White
The week of September 20 to 26 has been designated International Week of Deaf People. Deaf people around the world use this week to celebrate their achievements and their abilities and also to advocate for their human rights in a world where everything seems to hinge on the ability to hear. In some parts of the world deaf people are marginalised and the fight for even the basic human rights is ongoing.
This year, the theme of the week is “Celebrating Thriving Deaf Communities”. September 23 has been designated as “International Day of Sign Languages” and the theme for yesterday was “We Sign for Human Rights”.
The right to communicate in your native language is a right for all human beings. In order for deaf communities to thrive, sign Language must thrive. The more hearing people learn to sign, the more deaf people are included and the more they thrive. Let us all learn this simple sentence: we sign for human rights and let us all sign it every September 23.
Let this be just the beginning and let us all continue to sign for human rights. We can do this by learning sign language. There are several classes available where you can have a start and so make life that much easier for our deaf citizens.
Everyone has the right to be educated in their native language. The education of deaf people in Barbados, even though conducted in sign language, leaves a lot to be desired. Deaf children attend the Irving Wilson School from primary until secondary level and for the most part, they graduate with hardly any skills to help them to earn a decent living and support themselves and their families.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic some children were left behind since no provisions were made for them to be educated online and there were no systems in place to cater to these students.
No devices were provided for them to access the online platform.
However, in March this year, through the kind benevolence of The Deaf Heart Project and various sponsors, students were presented with their own devices and they were therefore able to participate in online classes and thus restart their education.
These sponsors gave from their hearts and thus allowed the deaf students a chance to thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has continued to wreak havoc in the entire world, has placed a damper on activities and has hampered the ability of the deaf community in Barbados to truly thrive.
Nevertheless, we have managedto make some strides and have realised a few achievements. An example is the recently-concluded National Library Service children’s summer camp.
This camp was conducted online and the Deaf Heart Project along with two individuals from the deaf community participated and taught the children basic sign language. These sessions were a huge success and the children were extremely happyto interact with the deaf individuals.
The minute the children learned that they were actually being taught sign language by native users they turned on the text feature on their computers and started typing in their questions and comments. They did this without having to be prompted.
What was especially heart-warming was the fact that both deaf individuals had persons by their sides who were there to interpret and act as a bridge between them and the children.
One daughter was there for her deaf mother and a wife was there for her deaf husband. The reaction of these children is a lesson we all can learn when it comes to inclusion – if one way of communication doesn’t work, then try another way rather than dismissing the deaf person and making him or her feel left out and marginalised. Marginalised people cannot thrive.
In recent weeks, a group of deaf individuals have offered themselves as volunteers to help paint a mural at the local YMCA. This venture arose from one deaf lady expressing a wish to give back and volunteer rather than just to receive.
This led to a beautiful collaboration of deaf and hearing individuals working together to create a beautiful mural. Hearing individuals who have never interacted with deaf people before simply bonded and worked together with one purpose in mind – to create a mural and to work together as one.
Maude White is deaf and an active member of the Deaf Women’s Club.