An advocate for the hearing impaired community is calling for doctors and health workers to be trained in Jamaican sign language so that they can communicate effectively with their deaf patients.
Deaf Community Leader, Rian Gayle, who was participating in a panel discussion organised by the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD) on February 17 at the Alhambra Inn in Kingston, said that communication has proven to be a serious barrier between the deaf patient and the health system. She said that a number of deaf persons are avoiding healthcare because of the fear of embarrassment over not being understood. “Deaf people in our community avoid going to health services. They’re having difficulties when they go in (to the doctor), because they feel that the professional does not understand them when they try to communicate and it is not worth going,” Miss Gayle told the audience.
She said that instead of going to the doctor, unfortunately, many deaf persons resort to taking advice from untrained family members and friends, which often puts them at further risk.
She also recommended that other critical service providers, such as lawyers, court workers, and law enforcement personnel receive similar sign language training.
Miss Gayle, who is also a Research Officer at JAD, said that the deaf community is also being side-lined in the media. “There is no captioning here on the TVs in Jamaica. It is so crucial, because as vital information is coming in from the government, such as hurricane warnings, without captioning, the deaf people are without that information,” she lamented.
Miss Gayle noted that while newspapers may share some positive incites about the deaf, they also help to perpetuate negative perceptions of the community. Citing the use of the word ‘dummy’ in the headline of an article published in a popular Jamaican newspaper, she stated that this is “a totally inappropriate and offensive term to use in describing members of the deaf community.” Minister of Religion and talk show host, Rev. Garnett Roper, who also participated in discussion, shared Miss Gayle’s concerns over the absence of television captioning for deaf people.
“As a matter of right, not as a privilege, they need to be spoken to. As a minimum, caption use must govern all television presentations. It takes nothing off us,” he said, noting that sign language interpreters should be a permanent fixture on the news. Legal Officer in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Carla Roper, further spoke of the need for the proper training of persons in the legal system so that they can effectively communicate with persons in the deaf community.
He informed that the Justice Training Institute has implemented such a programme, which he said, was a good start. Other maters coming out of the discussion include: the need for quality trained teachers and interpreters; relevant legislation to protect the rights of deaf people; rights-based approach to educational provisions; and the elimination of negative perceptions about the deaf. Other panellists were: Executive Director, Combined Disabilities Association, Gloria Goffe; Director of Family Health Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell; and Head of the Centre for Disability Studies, University of the West Indies, Mona, Floyd Morris.