Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Deaf still face many barriers

Published:Wednesday | September 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

After more than 30 years of our advocacy and struggle, we, the Jamaican deaf community, were finally allowed to get driver's licences. Frontline police officers were even given basic training in Jamaican sign language and deaf culture to prepare the police force to be able to interact more smoothly with deaf drivers.

However, when representatives from Deaf Can! Coffee, a social enterprise known for employing and empowering deaf people, went recently to schedule a driving test at the Swallowfield Motor Vehicle Examination Depot, they were told that deaf people could not be given general licences under the Road Traffic Act.

As a deaf person, this is an issue that I feel personally motivated to request speedy resolution to. Was the depot misinformed, or was the change to the law incomplete? We in the deaf community deal with too much from local law enforcement to be told that we are not allowed to drive. We face communication barriers when interacting with the police force, including traffic police.

To add insult to injury, I have had a personal experience that has left a particularly bitter taste. On September 13, my co-workers and I were mocked by police officers as we were leaving our workplace and walking outside Twin Gates Plaza. These officers, who were inside a marked Transport Authority vehicle, made fun of our natural sign language, and asked a female co-worker for her phone number with lewd gestures. This is both unprofessional and sexual harassment.

These cases show that the police force and the justice system at large do not know the proper way to interact with the deaf. As public servants, it is crucial that they learn not only proper communication methods for the deaf, but also proper interaction.

In Jamaica, the deaf face various barriers daily. For example, we are left in the dark when the wider Jamaican populace is aware of serious issues and dangers. Last year, when Hurricane Matthew was approaching our island, neither news nor government broadcasts about the impending storm were accessible to us.

ANDRE WITTER

Acting President of Deaf Sports Jamaica