A Deaf Awareness and Sign Language Community Event was held last month for persons who are deaf as well as those who have an interest in learning sign language.
The event was organized by the International Christian Centers for the Deaf (ICCD) in conjunction with Abundant Life Bible Church in New Providence to reach the deaf in The Bahamas.
The goal of ICCD Is to reach out to deaf individuals who do not have access to language, and to give them a basic education while teaching them about God.
Leading up to the community event, ICCD Missionaries Kayla Rohr and Tali DiPalma travelled with LaSasha Williams-Harry as their guide to Abaco on Feb. 24 to Feb. 27 in search of school-aged children and young adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. Williams Harry is a member of the New Providence Association of the Deaf, and president of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities. She is the daughter of Lluellyn and Deborah Williams.
The trio visited select schools as well as the Haitian communities of The Mud and Pigeon Pea to conduct a survey of those who are deaf in those communities and to see who was interested in the services they are offering. Throughout the week, they travelled to North Abaco and South Abaco schools and communities as well.
Williams-Harry said that the information collected will be used to formulate policies and programs to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing on Abaco and other Family Islands. Additionally, ,she and the ICCD missionaries met with representatives from the Department of Social Services in Marsh Harbour and Cooper’s Town; District Superintendent of Education Dr. Lenora Black; and various educational institutions and churches.
According to Williams-Harry, there were a number of findings.
“There are inadequate measures currently in place to educate children with hearing loss; there are no sign language educators; there is a lack of documentation, resources and deaf awareness; we came to know of 18 deaf/hard of hearing persons through connections and six of the 18 are children; we met 10 deaf/hard of hearing persons during our travels from Sandy Point to Crown Haven; and educators at various schools claimed to identify several hard of hearing children although not tested or confirmed,” she surmised.
The Sign Language Community Event Team was comprised of Cranston Knowles, Pastor of Abundant Life Bible Church; Williams-Harry; DiPalma and Rohr. They met with approximately 25 persons, who were shown a Deaf Awareness PowerPoint presentation highlighting facts about deafness and the deaf community in The Bahamas.
Those in attendance were taught songs, basic sign language i.e. the alphabet, numbers, greeting and basic everyday words. There were games, food, drinks and a prize giveaway.
William-Harry said: “It was a pleasure to travel to my home island Abaco with the ICCD missionaries and Pastor Cranston Knowles as their guide because I believe the goals they wish to achieve for deaf people in the Family Islands is very important.
“In Abaco and other Family Islands where there are no sign language educators or proper accommodations for deaf/hard of hearing students, they are faced with isolation and communication challenges, which in turn affects their ability to learn effectively. Although inadequate, the local government departments and private institutions try to provide assistance within their means.
“There is a dire need for resources on the island and deaf awareness among educators and the community in general.”
She noted that with the passing of the Persons with Disabilities Act in July 2014, and the establishment of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, there will be expectant changes in the coming months that will address these issues.
Additionally, the ICCD missionaries are proposing to establish a boarding school for deaf and hard of hearing children in New Providence for students from the Family Islands. This proposition intends to address the need for suitable education for deaf children. Williams-Harry said although the boarding school is needed, it is not completely embraced by the parents because their child will have to leave home and relocate to Nassau.
“Parents are very protective of their children, and it will be difficult for them to let go, so we are looking into others ways to address the lack of suitable education for deaf children in Abaco,” she said. “The ICCD has a proven record and are well intentioned; therefore, I will continue to work with them for the betterment of the Deaf community.”
She thanked all those who helped to make their trip a success namely the Marsh Harbour and Cooper’s Town Department of Social Services for their cooperation; Diana Strachan; Canishka Stuart- Alexander; Deborah Williams; James Williams; and Jeannine Dorsett.