SOCIAL JUSTICE – rcsocialjustice.org
By Amílcar Sanatan, CCSJ Board member
My first experience of meaningful exchange with people from the Deaf community was in the Church of the Holy Family, Mt Lambert. Through visits and the investment of Fr Christian Pineau FMI, the parish priest who developed proficiency in sign language communication, the congregation was sensitised to worshipping as a single community inclusive of Deaf people.
Notably, whether or not members of the Deaf community were present during Mass, the priest signed. Though my experience was confined to a religious context, it was important, as a young person, to embrace this representation as normal and commonplace.
I learnt that Deaf people were present in Church and the society and hearing people could learn sign language and effectively communicate with Deaf people.
Understanding through intercultural exchange and learning involves a necessary messiness. People from the group with social advantage do not always get it ‘right’. I learned to work through my shortcomings with Deaf people.
Once, I mistakenly grabbed the hand of a Deaf person during the Our Father. At first, I felt that the person did not want to join the ritual with me. Then, my mother quickly brought to my attention that they were Deaf and needed to sign the prayer.
Progressively in my church experience, simple greetings such as the “Peace of Christ”, “Good morning” and “Thank you” were possible because of the inclusive space created by the Church.
To be Deaf was not to be a spectacle or deserving of pity; rather to be Deaf was to be an equal person who could practise their faith in communion with the hearing.
The mainstream use of interpreters in State-led media addresses and conferences during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic globally proved effective in illustrating the beauty of sign language, its importance to public services, the visibility of the Deaf community and the one of the public practices of social inclusion.
Still, Deaf people are socially and spatially excluded from a range of public services they require. Experiences of sexual violence, unemployment, and lack of access to quality education adversely impact the Deaf community.
Hearing allies in the Deaf empowerment movement have long tried to raise the consciousness of the wider population but the charitable approach to their plight has not ended some of the primary exclusions they experience in everyday life.
In his opening presentation to the participants of East Port of Spain Development Company’s Conversational T&T Sign Language and Deaf Culture, Ian Dhanoolal, activist, and educator, said, “You think that you are sorry for Deaf people but that is not good. You might be worried that they do not have the ability to hear. These [attitudes] are negative. Deaf people are people just like you. The only thing we can’t do is hear. We are people just like you. I can communicate, drive and work hard. Some people feel sorry for the Deaf and they want to help but this is not for charity. You must learn about the lives of people in the Deaf community.”
The special linguistic and cultural traditions of Deaf communities should be seen as part of our national identity and landscape as it is with other able-bodied social groups.
If we are to imagine a future of Deaf inclusion in our society, we can envision improved material conditions for the Deaf, develop a more robust and dynamic education system and promote Sign Language as a CXC subject for all.
Interpreters are desperately needed in the public and social sectors throughout Trinidad and Tobago. Generally, support for the Deaf in our healthcare, education and justice systems are limited or unavailable in institutions.
Small, but vital steps to enhance the capacity of public workers for Deaf inclusion and sign language proficiency have been taking place in educational institutions.
There is a growing interest in sign language nationally and courses are currently offered at The University of the West Indies, COSTAATT, and SBCS Global Learning Institute.
Still, enhancing the awareness and communication skills of the hearing population are only part of the solution. Deaf empowerment requires the meaningful inclusion of Deaf workers, educators, and professionals as creators of economic and social value, and not just empowering them as its beneficiaries. For this reason, Deaf culture and intimately understanding the social experiences and economic realities of Deaf people are fundamental to developing an individual consciousness and public practice of social inclusion.
SOCIAL JUSTICE QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
“Many persons with disabilities ‘feel that they exist without belonging and without participating’. Much still prevents them from being fully enfranchised. Our concern should be not only to care for them but to ensure their ‘active participation in the civil and ecclesial community.’” (98)
– Pope Francis, Fratelli Tuitti.
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee