May 2010

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Seminar on the language and societal experience of the Deaf

A key objective of the mission statement of The UWI’s 2007-2012 Strategic Plan is the provision of “complementary opportunities for higher education that foster intellectual development, creative activity and self actualization, enhance social and interpersonal relations, and enable students to have a broader frame of reference for specialized knowledge.”

As broad as it is, this objective is even more essential to the advancement of persons with disabilities in our society, and more specifically the Deaf, who due to the communication barrier of what is essentially a linguistic deficiency rather than a disability, find themselves unable to advance socially and economically, towards self sufficiency. While many Deaf attain a primary education, few go on to succeed at the secondary level in any academic fields, as the majority are unable to attain CSEC passes which would enable them to advance to tertiary level institutions.

While some may argue that scarce resources cannot be further stretched to provide for the specialized educational needs of the Deaf at the tertiary level, it is nevertheless important to provide means for those Deaf who wish to pursue tertiary studies within the Caribbean, especially due to the fact that while cases of deafness from birth have been decreasing mainly due to medical advances, sudden or acquired deafness is noted to be on the increase, as a result of accidents and occupational causes respectively. Since education is a universal right, no member of the Deaf community should be allowed to remain marginalized as a result of society not providing the resources which would make him/her more marketable and by extension, self sufficient.

It is significant that the Department of Liberal Arts of the St. Augustine Campus chose to host a seminar on the language and societal experience of the Deaf yesterday. It was meant to bring a marginalized but vibrant community together, to discuss issues pertinent to their advancement. A welcome outcome of this seminar would be a greater awareness of issues affecting the Deaf within Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean, and the laying down of a foundation to ensure that more Deaf and other persons with disabilities could freely enjoy the concomitant benefits of an academic/tertiary education. (Samantha S. P. Mitchell)