Trinidad deaf advocate wins award for work in region

(Trinidad Guardian)  “Deaf peo­ple can do any­thing hear­ing peo­ple can ex­cept hear.”

Those were the words of Dr King Jor­dan who made his­to­ry in 1988 when he be­came the first deaf pres­i­dent of Gal­laudet Uni­ver­si­ty, Wash­ing­ton, DC. It is the world’s on­ly uni­ver­si­ty where all the pro­grammes and ser­vices are de­signed specif­i­cal­ly for stu­dents who are deaf and hard of hear­ing.

Al­so seek­ing to leave his mark on the deaf com­mu­ni­ty is vice-pres­i­dent of the T&T As­so­ci­a­tion for the Hear­ing Im­paired (TTAHI) Ian Dhanoolal who is cur­rent­ly com­pil­ing a sign lan­guage dic­tio­nary which will fea­ture unique as­pects of this coun­try’s cul­ture, mu­sic, food, di­alect and even lo­cal pop­u­lar say­ings.

Dhanoolal said the ef­fort is aimed at the de­vel­op­ment of the deaf com­mu­ni­ty.

He said he gath­ered the in­for­ma­tion for the sign lan­guage dic­tio­nary by check­ing all around the coun­try “to see what kinds of signs that peo­ple use all over.”

“We will in­clude the old with the new and mod­ern and will merge that with what is al­ready ex­ist­ing. We want a dic­tio­nary that match­es with the cul­ture of Trinidad and To­ba­go,” Dhanoolal ex­plained.

Vice President of the T&T Association for the Hearing Impaired, Ian Dhanoolal.

“When peo­ple from oth­er coun­tries come here, they will see we have our own sign lan­guage that is unique to us and it will al­so be some­thing we can show­case and call our own.”

The first Caribbean na­tion­al to be award­ed an Ed­ward Min­er Gal­laudet Award, the 44-year-old Champs Fleurs res­i­dent ad­mit­ted he was sur­prised when he was se­lect­ed ear­li­er this year. The award is pre­sent­ed to a deaf or hear­ing leader from any place in the world who is work­ing to pro­mote the well-be­ing of deaf peo­ple world­wide.

“I re­ceived an email from the Gal­laudet Uni­ver­si­ty, Wash­ing­ton, which said I won an award.”

Speak­ing through in­ter­preter Ter­ence Gopaul at DRETCHI, Dhanoolal said: “I asked what? how? what is the rea­son? It was lat­er ex­plained to me that I had won an award for rep­re­sent­ing the deaf peo­ple of Trinidad and To­ba­go.

“I felt very elat­ed, en­cour­aged and proud to learn my peers had nom­i­nat­ed me. It has bol­stered me to think more pos­i­tive for the fu­ture in terms of es­tab­lish­ing a right, as it were for this coun­try, to have their own sign lan­guage.”

A tu­tor in the Caribbean Sign Lan­guage In­ter­pret­ing pro­gramme at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West In­dies, Dhanoolal is con­sid­ered an ex­cel­lent lan­guage mod­el and in­struc­tor. He al­so con­ducts re­search on the cul­ture and en­dan­gered in­dige­nous sign lan­guages of oth­er Caribbean and South and Cen­tral Amer­i­can deaf com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing those in St. Vin­cent, Guyana, Grena­da, Ja­maica, the Cay­man Is­lands, Hon­duras, and Colom­bia.

He al­so col­lab­o­rates with deaf cul­ture and lan­guage re­searchers in the Unit­ed States, Ger­many, and the Nether­lands.

Dhanoolal pre­sent­ed his find­ings at the World Con­gress of the World Fed­er­a­tion of the Deaf in Is­tan­bul in 2015 and will do so again this sum­mer in Paris on gen­der, vi­o­lence, eco­nom­ics and hu­man rights.

Be­yond the class­room, Dhanoolal was the first deaf in­ter­preter on tele­vi­sion in T&T and plays a lead­ing role ad­vo­cat­ing for deaf in­ter­preters to be em­ployed as a mat­ter of cus­tom at pub­lic events such as the pre­sen­ta­tion of the na­tion­al bud­get and its fol­low-up de­bates, na­tion­al con­sul­ta­tions and large-scale meet­ings.

As pres­i­dent of the Deaf Em­pow­er­ment and Ad­vo­ca­cy Foun­da­tion (DEAF), Dhanoolal said he is es­pe­cial­ly pained when­ev­er mem­bers of the pub­lic use neg­a­tive terms such as hear­ing-im­paired and hand­i­capped to de­scribe deaf peo­ple.

“Deaf peo­ple would just pre­fer to be called deaf be­cause that re­al­ly match­es their cul­ture and iden­ti­fies who they are,” he said.

“Deaf peo­ple have their own unique cul­ture. If some­one is deaf, they must feel proud but hear­ing im­paired on the oth­er hand can be where that per­son may just have a loss of hear­ing. Some deaf peo­ple are al­so ashamed to be iden­ti­fied to be part of the hear­ing com­mu­ni­ty and we don’t want that. We want deaf per­sons to feel proud of who they are and I want to show­case the deaf cul­ture and help the pub­lic un­der­stand that cul­ture.”

Dhanoolal lament­ed the lack of in­clu­sion of deaf per­sons gen­er­al­ly, not­ing that one area that is sore­ly lack­ing is in the num­ber of sign lan­guage in­ter­preters.

“We need more hear­ing peo­ple to come and learn sign lan­guage, not just for school but for deaf per­sons who need to ac­cess to doc­tors, banks, and oth­er in­sti­tu­tions,” he said.

“We need to change the needs of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to match the needs of the deaf. That is the chal­lenge we face be­cause most of the time it is not wel­com­ing to deaf per­sons.”

About the TTAHI

The T&T As­so­ci­a­tion for the Hear­ing Im­paired (TTAHI) was found­ed in 1943 with the aim of pro­vid­ing a bet­ter qual­i­ty of life for peo­ple who are deaf, hard of hear­ing, late deaf­ened and their fam­i­lies.

It was es­tab­lished un­der the guid­ance of Rev­erend William Gil­by as the Trinidad As­so­ci­a­tion in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb.

On No­vem­ber 15, 1943, the School for the Deaf was es­tab­lished at Martha House, Ed­ward Street, Port of Spain and in 1946, the school was re­lo­cat­ed to Cas­cade Road, Cas­cade, and re­named the Cas­cade School for the Deaf.

Dur­ing the 1960s, the Au­drey Jef­fers School for the Deaf was es­tab­lished due to the mo­men­tum gained in deaf ed­u­ca­tion and in re­sponse to the grow­ing num­ber of chil­dren be­ing di­ag­nosed with deaf­ness in south Trinidad which was at­trib­uted to an out­break of the Ger­man measles-rubel­la virus.

In 1962, the As­so­ci­a­tion was in­cor­po­rat­ed by an Act of Par­lia­ment No. 18 and its’ name changed to The Trinidad As­so­ci­a­tion in Aid of the Deaf, re­mov­ing the term ‘dumb’ from the ti­tle, which many peo­ple re­gard­ed as of­fen­sive. In 2000, the name was again changed as the old Act was re­pealed.

The vi­sion of the found­ing board was to pro­vide sup­port for par­ents and fam­i­lies of deaf stu­dents in ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial life. How­ev­er, it was not un­til the late 80’s that the man­date of the As­so­ci­a­tion was ex­tend­ed to in­clude a holis­tic range of ser­vices that pro­vide clin­i­cal, di­ag­nos­tic and ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits for peo­ple who are deaf and hard of hear­ing, with em­pha­sis on di­ag­nos­ing and treat­ing the ear­ly stages of hear­ing loss in chil­dren.

The Di­ag­nos­tic Re­search Ed­u­ca­tion Ther­a­peu­tic Cen­tre (DRETCHI) opened its doors on No­vem­ber 21, 1991, as the clin­i­cal and tech­ni­cal ser­vices func­tion of TTAHI. It was cre­at­ed to pro­vide au­di­o­log­i­cal ser­vices to strength­en and im­ple­ment the man­date of the As­so­ci­a­tion.

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