Today marks International Day of Sign Languages.
In remembrance of the day, Lionel Smith, president of the local deaf group Barbados Horizon for the Deaf Charity, formerly known as the New Life Deaf Club, has issued a statement speaking on the importance of using sign language in society and reiterating this year’s global theme for International Week of the Deaf, Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights.
“Sign Language is the language used by deaf people and is recognised like any other language in the world. In Barbados, the Deaf use American Sign Language (ASL) with a blend of signs representing Bajan dialect and culture. Sign language fully incorporates the use of our hands, facial expressions, gestures and body language, and some lip reading; not one without the other,” Smith remarked.
He outlined the challenges that the deaf community in Barbados was facing due to the advent of the coronavirus. He mentioned the wearing of masks has impeded the communication process for many deaf and hard of hearing persons.
“Deaf and hard of hearing individuals cannot easily communicate within the scope of “the new normal” which requires the wearing of face masks. Whereas we adhere and agree to all COVID-19 protocols for the safety of all people, it does not change the fact that face masks severely obstruct communication for the Deaf,” Smith said.
He added, “Moreover, many public places still do not show any sensitivity towards those in society with disabilities. Recently I staycationed at a local resort where I was apparently receiving phone calls from the front desk for restaurant reservations. I responded to the general reservation manager, “How can I hear the phone call?” It was then that the manager realised that they have a problem with communication and access for deaf persons.”
The BHDC president contended many deaf Barbadians were being forced to migrate to overseas because of the inaccessibility of deaf services. He pinpointedly said that there was limited access to the same educational levels and job opportunities locally, so deaf Barbadians were outside of Barbados.
“I think Barbados needs to be more accessible for deaf service. Too many deaf Barbadians are moving to America or other countries for a chance to live more independent, successful lives there. We just want to feel at home in our home – Barbados,” Smith emphasized.
In his final remarks, the president of the BHDC made a recall to reaffirm the human rights of the deaf and reiterated that “the Deaf can do everything you can do except hear”.
The Barbados deaf community formed the organised group New Life Deaf Club (NLDC) in January 1995. After 20 years the group renamed itself ‘Barbados Horizon Deaf Charity (BHDC) in 2019 and is supported by the Barbados Council for the Disabled and The Deaf Heart Project.
The organisation has more 200 members in Barbados, including the elderly and those with hearing loss. However, there are no official figures for the estimated number of deaf individuals living on the island.