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Workplace talk

Learning to communicate with someone whose method of communication differs from ours is nothing new. We do it in various ways not even realising that it’s this same communication we’re trying to facilitate.

When someone doesn’t understand a task, job or assignment we do any and everything to bring clarity and accuracy to the situation, while at the same time, in most instances, forge a relationship which the individual or individuals to whom we’re addressing.

Businesses do it everyday in order to survive, we do it in our homes and we do it in social environments. We cannot survive without it because from the moment we open our eyes on mornings and come into contact with another human being whether face to face or by some device like a phone or computer, communication is taking place. We do it without thinking and it’s necessary in order for us to function.

This is why when people say that working with deaf people is a difficult task or they don’t want to hire any deaf people that it’s something I have incredible difficulty understanding. Now I can understand if you don’t know sign language and never had to use it, but I don’t know why anyone would say that they won’t do it strictly because they don’t want to. Sounds a bit discriminatory to me.

I believe there needs to be wide spread teaching of sign language in order for the deaf to fit into the workforce like anyone else. Not hiring someone because they’re unqualified is one thing, but doing so because of a communication deficit is something completely different. Businesses need to be taught so as to make inclusion a norm for us in this country and beyond.

Not only that, but when we make communication a priority, understanding each other and where we come from helps to foster a relationship we never thought possible. Also, it sends a message to the wider society that learning to accept each other regardless of differences is important as much as it is necessary.

The problem as I see it, is that the average person, interpreters included (unfortunately), do not see sign language as a language. When we understand and accept this as truth, then we would not only teach differently, but treat it differently.

I told my sign language class last week that it’s a no brainer. When you travel to Paris and you step off the plane, you’re in a world where you’re the outsider and you do everything to try to communicate. You throw together a few French words on paper that probably aren’t properly structured grammatically in an attempt for the French to understand you, or you probably say some words you remember from French class “back in the day” which you pronounce wrong, or you gesture in a futile attempt for them to understand what on God’s green earth you’re trying to articulate.

Sometimes you get frustrated, they get frustrated, but if both parties care about the communication process working, then they would stick with it until the light bulb comes on.

I’m sure you would agree that the scenario would’ve been a lot easier if the persons who were travelling to France had known French even in its basic form. True? I would however argue that the French knowing some English would’ve helped as well.

You see everybody has a role to play when it comes to the facilitating of communication. While one group may have to do a bit more work, there is no denying that the responsibility falls on the shoulders of all involved to make sure that understanding comes about as a result of being dedicated to this process called communication.

Here in Barbados, many people have been taught some of the very basics in sign language but don’t use it because they see no opportunity for its use. I believe that when we start to accept the deaf as persons who can and do bring a meaningful contribution to the workforce, then our attitude towards them and their language will drastically change.

However, there needs to be a properly structured, organised and tailored sign language programme which should be taught in businesses as it relates to that particular business. What has been happening is that some people are taught but then they can’t translate what they’ve learnt into their particular environment, which makes it all worthless and a complete waste of time. People need to be taught everyday phrases and sentences but moreso need to be taught things which will help them in their particular scenario.

Let’s never forget that there’s nothing wrong with the deaf person’s mind. They aren’t ignorant, stupid, unwilling to work or just walk around making monkey gestures or making unintelligent and offensive noises. They’re smart intelligent human beings whose “disability” is one of communication.

They try so hard to be a part of the hearing world yet we don’t even attempt to try to understand them. Instead we talk a load of garbage about the deaf who we know nothing about!

It’s time for us to take inclusion and sign language seriously. When we do that, we will treat the deaf and their language with the dignity and respect with which it is due. Let’s embrace sign language as a separate and unique language and start to do that which we do every waking moment of our lives. Communicate!

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