The Invisibles: Deafness and the Media

Last week, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, came to Jamaica. The first US presidential visit, I believe, in decades.

It was a hell of an affair; the Jamaican government made haste to make repairs to the roads (that probably won’t last very long), tear down the stalls (the livelihoods) of roadside vendors, and, oh, so suddenly developed an interest in the welfare of the homeless, moving them off the streets, into mental institutions and shelters. Roads that Pres. Obama was scheduled to use were blocked off, and some people had problems getting to work and school, and… our Prime Minister had the gall to liken all this to cleaning up one’s home when a beloved family member is coming for a visit.


I guess the Jamaican people are the dirt she sweeps away from her living room floor.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about.

On Thursday afternoon, the president was scheduled to speak at a Town Hall meeting at my university. Classes before 5:00 pm were cancelled, (some) offices were closed, the area around the Assembly Hall where the meeting would be held was cordoned off.

I had a test at 5:00, so I didn’t pay much attention to all that. I was just glad I made it to the university in good time. (One of my friends had been basically trapped in her community for a while because of the road blockages.) When I got to UWI, I remembered the Commuting Students’ Lounge had a TV; so, in between studying, I took a few peeks at the live broadcast of the meeting.

But… something was wrong.

Pres. Obama giving his speech at the UWI Assembly Hall

Pres. Obama giving his speech at the UWI Assembly Hall

Let be backtrack a bit. I have a friend who had told me that she was going to be at the event. But she wasn’t just someone sitting in on the meeting. No, she had a specific job: She would be doing Jamaican Sign Language interpreting.

Because I knew that, I, along with the Deaf community, expected picture in picture JSL interpreting for this televised event. It had been such a surety to me that when I didn’t see my friend on TV, I had begun to worry that she’d got sick.

But when she was done, she told me she had been there, interpreting the whole time. The cameras just didn’t focus on her. At all.

I’m upset. I’m upset because it was something we expected, an assumption we drew from the fact that there would be an interpreter on site. Looks like we expected too much. With all the fuss being made, with all of Jamaica abuzz with this man’s visit, no doubt taking a break from their everyday activities to see what this visiting dignitary had to say to our people, one community was forgotten.


sign_language_cycle1There could be many possible excuses, reasons, blah, blah. Honestly, none of that matters. What matters is that again the Deaf community is left out. With the recent Disability Act signed in our Parliament, one would think people would make effort to cater to those who can’t hear. But neither of our main national TV stations featured the interpreting. I have to emphasise again: an interpreter was right there!


I won’t stand for this anymore. We won’t stand for this anymore. The deaf/Deaf have a right to information. And they should not be forgotten. You don’t build a nation by sweeping people off to the side; you build it by building the people. And you build the people by providing them with information, in their own language.

So, Jamaican media; get building!

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2 Responses to The Invisibles: Deafness and the Media

  1. Jeff says:

    Just curious, but was there closed captioning on the broadcast?


    • kenliano says:

      Ha. This is Jamaica. I highly doubt it. Our local stations add closed captions to anything.

      But in all fairness, I don’t know. The TV I was seeing it on may or may not have had the CC setting on.

      Based on experience, though, I’d say no.


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