Deafening silence - Members of the deaf community decry poor treatment
Corey Robinson, Gleaner Staff Reporter
They live in a world where their silence is deemed silly and attempts to communicate are made more difficult as the 'hearing people' don't listen. Many of those who can hear are too lazy to understand the reality of those who are deaf and often belittle their potential.
"It takes a bit of patience on our part and theirs because they speak a different language ... and our 'slowness' annoys them," declared a member of the deaf community last week as he expressed concerns about several factors holding them back in a society where the majority can hear and see no reason to learn sign language.
"When I'm home I don't really go outside; (there are) too many 'hearing people'. They call me stupid and dummy. And I don't like it so I stay inside," said 20-year-old Oshaine Howell, a student of the Lister Mair/Gilby High School for the Deaf.
Howell, who has served the school as head boy for the past two years, used a sign-language interpreter as he spoke with The Sunday Gleaner, but his face betrayed more than the words repeated.
Dreams of representing Jamaica
He is an essential part of the school's food and nutrition programme and helps teachers connect with their younger students. For several years he has excelled as a prefect, and dreams of representing Jamaica worldwide in the culinary arts. His desire comes from a burning place.
"I feel hurt and embarrassed. For me (dummy) is a bad word," explained Howell. "I prefer people respect our culture and we expect people to respect each other and to respect us and who we are. That's what I would want them to do," added Howell.
At that time the voice was no longer that of Tamu Clayton, visual arts teacher who was serving as interpreter. It was Howell's, and it came alive in his facial expressions and flashy gestures.
"I want to become a chef," interpreted Clayton, who was asked to deliver Howell's responses word for word.
"That's difficult, however, considering that certain words like 'is', 'are' and 'the' are not recognised in their language; and because not being able to hear bedtime stories and other early-childhood sounds means delayed and choppy grammar development," explained Clayton.
But Howell is not daunted.
"I want to work in Jamaica, at Sandals. Because I want to meet people; people from all over the world," Howell said with a circular gesture of his hand, seemingly the symbol of the word 'world'.
"It would give other people opportunity to learn about the deaf and the language. They would come (to Jamaica) and see that we treat them good and not bad.
"Sometimes I get angry when people call me dummy. I will get angry at them because that word is not nice. It's insulting. I want them to use the right word, which is deaf," he said. "But I'm satisfied with it. I'm satisfied with being deaf. Being deaf doesn't bother me, it is the people."
Howell is from Waltham Park in the Corporate Area and he said the people there are not all discriminating. According to Howell, some of his neighbours are very understanding and often ask him to teach them a few sign words to ease communication.
Communicating is very important for Howell, who next year will sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) in English Language - he needs all the practice he can get. Also on his to-do list are two other CSEC subjects, including Food and Nutrition, his passion.
More deaf students fear English language than any other subject, explained Clayton.
"It is far more difficult for them to understand; not being able to hear natural pauses, pronunciations and so forth," she explained. "They have a different culture, different ways of expressing themselves from those of the hearing and many have come to love their way of life. They have come to be proud of each other," added Clayton.
Among those who instil pride in the community is 18-year-old Kimberly Barnes, also a student of the Lister Mair/Gilby High School for the Deaf.
Kimberley looked at our news team with sympathy when asked to explain how she managed to win four gold medals at numerous dancing competitions put on by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission.
"We feel the rhythm. The stage is (made of) board and we feel the vibrations," quipped Kimberly.
"Our teacher helps us to learn how to move with the music, and I always feel excited when it comes to dancing. She taught us to feel the vibrations on the stage and to feel the rhythm in our hearts. But that's easy for me," declared Kimberly.
Problems at home
What's hard, she said, is dealing with her parents.
"For me, I'm not comfortable being deaf because I have many problems at home with parents and family. My parents don't understand my communication, my sign language," she said. "They always forget (the signs) so they lip-read.
"I have to pronounce the words for them to lip-read and I'm not comfortable with lip-reading."
"It makes her depressed," said Clayton, as Kimberly hung her head as she watched her teacher interpret the discouraging words.
"I am a prefect. Before, I was monitor and they moved me," declared Kimberly, reading the lips and answering the next questions even before Clayton could sign.
"No! Not at all. Our rights are not being upheld. Deaf persons still can't get jobs. Bosses think deaf persons can't do anything. I want them to change that attitude," said Barnes with her hands moving rapidly.
"I want them to change their thinking. The deaf can improve also. They can get jobs and go through college just the same."
Kimberly, who also lives in Kingston, wants to study choreography at the tertiary level. She fears, however, that her desired institution, the Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts, will not have a sign-language interpreter when she is ready to attend.