Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Jamaica is blind to the deaf

Published:Tuesday | April 14, 2015 | 4:00 AMPatria-Kaye Aarons

Isn't it just the most annoying thing when you turn on the television and there's no sound? When there's a programme you really want to catch but the audio has chipped out and all you can see are mouths moving? You can't get any context and you are so frustrated because you want to understand what is going on and just can't.

Well, that frustration, I imagine, is exactly what the deaf feel when they watch local programming. And it isn't fair. STATIN's survey of 2012 reported that some almost 76,000 persons in Jamaica reported having a hearing problem and approximately 13,000 of those people consider themselves completely deaf or near deaf. And all of them are forced to sharpen their lip-reading skills.

Not one local programme is closed caption, not even the newscasts on either station. Amen for Parliament, which has recently started to consistently have an interpreter present to translate what goes on there. But there is still so much more to be done.

 

DAYS OF THE INTERPRETER

 

I remember, as a child, we used to have the interpreter in the corner of the newscast. I also know that their absence today is a factor of cost, but surely there must be a workaround.

Even when the resource is provided, we have become so accustomed to ignoring the deaf and their needs. A sign-language translator was provided at the recently held youth forum at the University of the West Indies. She was there for the entire thing - start to finish. She signed through Tessanne's singing and through Agent Sasco's deejaying. She translated every question asked by the bright young Caribbean members of the audience and every spirited, inspiring response President Obama gave. And yet the deaf community in Jamaica felt completely left out of it all because none of the free-to-air television stations took the time to insert the interpreter in their coverage.

I learnt sign language when I was about 12 or 13 years old. My impetus to learn was a deaf girl I befriended named Dana Hobbins. A teenager herself, I came to learn that Dana and I were very similar. We both loved a good prank and shared a similar jovial, light-hearted spirit.

Both bright and leaders in our own right, Dana and I were both pretty popular in our circles and very involved at our schools. We both loved the stage and our bond grew with many a shared dance and drama class in Little People and Teen Players' Club. Dana and I became such good friends that she would sometimes spend holidays at my family house, and as friends who swapped stories and shared secrets, sign language became our code between just us two.

I never really noticed the deaf before Dana. Sure, I would see them in their green and white uniforms on the bus with me and assume they were sussing me and everyone around them, but it never crossed my mind to step into their shoes. Perhaps had I not met Dana, I wouldn't see just how much we exclude the deaf.

 

APATHY SETS IN

 

Jamaica is still blind to the deaf. We've developed apathy - not deliberately so, but we are inconsiderate of the fact that they, too, are members of the society. And they have a right to be treated as such. The passing of the Disabilities Act is great, but we should not need the threat of legislative penalties to see our brother's need.

Today I ask you to see the deaf. Really notice them. In the same way that many of us know basic Spanish so we can communicate with foreigners who visit our island, how about us learning even basic sign language so we can communicate with our very own?

The letters of the alphabet, hello, goodbye, good morning, no, thank you, please, it would make a world of difference to learn these phrases in sign language. You'd be surprised at how much you would bring cheer to the deaf if you showed that you saw them - and that they, too, mattered.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.