LETTER OF THE DAY - Deaf drivers frustrated with Government's tardiness
The Editor, Sir:
Early in 2009, the Government publicly announced that deaf persons would soon be able to acquire a driver's licence legally. The deaf community was very excited and the good news quickly spread to deaf communities in the United States (US), England and other countries.
The Jamaican deaf community was very pro-active and measures were immediately put in place to familiarise themselves with the road code and how to apply for a driver's licence. Among the activities implemented was a special class to facilitate the training of deaf persons who were interested in acquiring their drivers' licenses. Many deaf people joined these classes, which were held at the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD) Social Services Department at Camp Road in Kingston and at in Mandeville.
There was much buzz in the media as Jamaica was listed among a small group of 26 nations that do not legally allow deaf persons to drive. The excitement surrounded the fact that this would soon change. However, there still remained the question of "Who would administer the examination?" and, even more importantly, "Who would be responsible to amend the applicable law to state that a signalling device, which was discovered to be obsolete and no longer in production, is not required to be installed on a vehicle being driven by a deaf person?".
Are deaf Jamaicans lesser than their counterparts elsewhere? Deaf Jamaicans who migrated to the US and other countries are in no way hindered by such restrictions. However, the Jamaican deaf community is faced with simplistic arguments such as: "Deaf people cannot hear a horn honk, so how then can a deaf driver manage in an emergency?" or "Deaf drivers are very dangerous and are high risk on the roads".
We have proved that deaf drivers do drive here in Jamaica. Some, because they received their driver's licence in other countries and a few who have actually been 'privileged' to receive a Jamaican driver's licence. In the US, research shows that deaf drivers have one of the lowest accident records. From all indications, the same holds true for Jamaica.
Unfortunately, the Government through the Ministry of Transport and Works and the Island Traffic Authority, have doggedly held to the view that a signalling device is imperative to deaf persons being given the right to drive on Jamaican roads. The deaf community has repeatedly pointed out that (a) the device is no longer used in other countries and (b) the device is no longer in production.
In 2009, the deaf community again became excited following various representations and meetings with the current Government. It was most heartening when the Government agreed to fund training for members of the police force, traffic inspectors and road licensing officers for four weeks to sensitise and educate them about deaf persons and how to assist them with acquiring their driver's licences. The training was facilitated by the JAD and included interaction with the deaf.
The Government also promised that if the signalling device was not sourced in or outside of Jamaica within a specified time frame, they would take the steps necessary to have the existing rules and regulations amended accordingly. Today, we are still waiting and are becoming increasingly frustrated. How much longer should we wait?
I am, etc.,
N. ANTHONY AIKEN
c/o The Jamaica Association for the Deaf
2b Camp Road