Nita prepared her carnival clothes. She got her crew ready. She made sure her shoes were comfy and her flags were in place. One flag for Guyana and one for Jamaica. She attended a series of fetes across the United States this summer and as Summer was nearing its end she reflected on the fun she had.
“I danced all day and all night.” She said with a smile so bright it would rival any stage at a glo fete.
She would end her Summer seeing her Favorite group: Kes The Band. “I love the energy, the excitement and the feel of their music.”
She loves the feel of the music. She loves their vibe. But being Deaf, she has never heard them. Nor has anyone in her crew of friends.
“I buy their music and play it in my car.” “I turn the music way up and can feel the beat as I drive!”
Nita lives in the United States where as a Deaf individual she is allowed to drive. This simple privilege allotted to those who successfully utilize a ton of steel to make lefts and rights and to stop and park is not easy to obtain for a Deaf person in the Caribbean - if you can at all. In Jamaica, for example, Deaf individuals earned the right to drive in 2011. There have been some issues as to whether or not they can only receive a private license (cars only) or a general license which includes buses and trucks. If you are a Deaf business owner and need a general license to operate a truck or bus in Jamaica don’t hold your breath. Prior to this, a license obtained in the United States would have been treated the same as a general Jamaican license, but you could not obtain a license as a deaf individual from Jamaica itself. The precious few deaf individuals granted a license must then face the very real challenge of acquiring insurance. If this seems at all unfair, consider this, Jamaica has arguably the most modern views on accessibility rights in the Caribbean.
It is no secret that there has been a tremendous lack of support for the Deaf and hard of hearing in the Caribbean. In 2010 linguist Ian Robertson of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago made the following comment: “At no time in the history of education in the country has there been sufficient information on deafness and Deaf education for a policy position to be arrived at.”
I could not find evidence of any program like the equal access rights granted in the US under the Americans with Disabilities act (ADA). Or legislation similar to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of the UK or the Canadian Human Rights Act, that prohibits discrimination. That means no closed captions, no interpreters at the doctor’s office, no viable form of electronic communication, no voting assistance, or access to higher education, no protections from discrimination - which means limited availability, rights, and exposure to opportunities in the world around them.
Even in situations where there are Deaf schools, many times the Deaf community sites their lack of input in the developing of their own education or the style best suited for their culture.
Yes. The Deaf community has their own culture and their own language and unfortunately history has shown us that the original sign language that existed in parts of the Caribbean and on the continent of Africa was often reshaped or converted into the sign language spoken in the United states (ASL) or in Europe (BSL) by well-intended educators.
There is often a shortage of trained teachers, and that divide creates scores of young people who are unprepared for higher education and unprepared for the challenges and careers of the 21st century.
So, it should be no surprise that with all these very important issues that need to be worked on, seeing to the needs of a Deaf individual at carnival time is incredibly low on the list.
But should it be? Yes, there are educational and access challenges, yes, all children should have access to school and all adults should have access to continued meaningful education but all of that costs money, interest and involvement. People must first acknowledge you exist, before they care.
Nita approached the VIP area of the concert. She had an excellent view of the stage. Her interpreter was already on the stage, waiting for the thunderous introduction. The DJ put on some music and Nita began to dance. Her family was greeted with smiles, several people began to dance with her. A young woman approached her daughter-in-law and asked, “How is she keeping the beat?” “She can feel the music.” She replies. “Wow she’s a great dancer!” The young woman dances over to where Nita is and the two share a dance.
Another person remarks that they left their Deaf loved one home because they didn’t think there would be an interpreter, so they wouldn’t have any fun.
The interpreter was Nita’s son. A nationally certified, college educated, 20 year veteran of sign language interpreting. He interpreted because there was no one else to do so and he wanted his Mother to enjoy the carnival season. Every year he learns all the hottest Soca, Chutney and Dance Hall tunes and made sure they were relayed in proper context. Nita is lucky at this fete. Most promoters she has encountered in the US won’t even consider an interpreter and are at times confused as to why they should get one. So, she brings her son.
I couldn’t find one person other than Nita and her family and friends who had ever seen Soca music interpreted at a concert. Rap concerts have them, Pop music concerts have them, Rock music does - but is it possible to interpret Soca? Chutney? Dance hall? Yes. Yes. and Yes. Deaf people love their culture and can party too! Why have they been left out?
Perhaps getting to know a Deaf person is a key to incorporating them into Caribbean society. They are not broken bodies that need to be fixed. They are vibrant and exciting individuals with lives and hobbies and goals and dreams just like everybody else!
Perhaps seeing their humanity will help open the door for them in the Caribbean. In other areas around the globe Deaf individuals do very well for themselves in academia and in professional circles. They drive, they obtain multiple degrees, or learn a trade, they are professionals, they have families, they vote, buy houses AND they party.
Perhaps seeing a Deaf person just like everybody else will allow communities to afford them the rights they deserve in the Caribbean. Opening a door for your fellow citizens will only assist in increasing the prosperity and innovation of the Caribbean by giving new voices a chance.
The concert begins. The interpreter is electrified! Nita’s favorite band glides onto the stage. The music swells and fills the night air with a sweet vibe. She smiles from ear to ear. She watches, and she feels. She covers her ears as she is too close to the speaker and the vibration nearly knocks her over.
And she can’t wait for Carnival next year.