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July 9, 2006

Getting the news to the deaf

From: Trinidad & Tobago Express - Port-of-Spain,Trinidad and Tobago - Jul 9, 2006

Stories by Julien Neaves

THE ABSENCE of signed interpretation of local television news is of great concern to the deaf community who are feeling alienated and uninformed.

This was the view of various non-profit organisations that assist and lobby for the hearing-impaired, including the Agape Deaf Centre, Deaf Pioneers and the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter of Disabled People International (TTDPI).

In the past the now defunct Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) station broadcasted their evening news programme Panorama with simultaneous signed interpretation for the hearing-impaired. This practice was discontinued prior to the station's closing and there is currently no interpretation of news on the sole local television station CCN TV6 or relatively new cable stations Cable News Channel 3, IETV, Gayelle television or fledgling CNMG, the successor of TTT, which has not begun full broadcasting.

Director of the Agape Deaf Centre Olga Anthony told the Sunday Express that the deaf community had been complaining that it is ignorant of news and has been "clamouring" for it.

"They don't get anything in sign (and) always have to ask somebody what is going on," she said.

Anthony explained that no one was bringing information to the hearing-impaired and they relied upon what they can glean among themselves.

Stephen Dookhran, who is hearing-impaired and one of the trainees at the Centre, told the Sunday Express that Government must pay for interpreters on the nightly news.

"The deaf like (to) watch the news on TV but we can't hear!" he stated.

President of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter of Disabled People International (TTDPI) George Daniel said that the hearing-impaired felt left out as only the hearing population were able to tune into the evening news.

"They don't have a clue as to what is happening," he noted.

He commented that some people believe that to treat people with disabilities equally meant building a ramp but he noted that it meant treating them as full citizens.

Deaf Pioneers Founder and Director Sharon Aguillera said that were many times deaf people were uniformed of serious national matters. She provided the example of the alert for Hurricane Ivan last year requesting that people remain at home.

Aguillera recalled that some deaf people went to work during the alert only to find empty offices. She noted that when the Ministry of Health broadcast programmes on the television for the deaf community it was just pictures moving on the screen.

Daniel said that the need for interpreters on television news was something that his organisation has been advocating. He noted that though direct contact had not been made with the television stations the issue has been discussed in consultations.

Aguillera recalled that Deaf Pioneers had previously contacted CCN TV6 on the issue but received no positive response. She noted that they had approached TV6 because it was the most frequently looked at station and had not approached the new television stations.

Anthony reported that the Centre had contacted different television stations but no effort was being made to hire interpreters. She noted that she was unsure whether it was a money issue or there was another problem.

TV6 General Manager Shida Bolai told the Sunday Express that they had introduced a closed captioning system for the news that gave main headlines and information from the Teleprompter, though not the details in the reporter's stories.

She said that the officials at TV6 would be examining the issue further, including live deaf interpretation. Officials from other television stations could not be immediately reached for comment.

Anthony noted that because many members of the deaf population were illiterate they specifically wanted signed news and not closed captioning.

Aguillera said that her organisation had also contacted the Ministry of Social Development on the matter. Both she and Daniel said they had ensured that this was one of the issues highlighted in the holistic National Policy on Persons with Disabilities launched last month.

All three organisation directors indicated that there were interpreters willing, capable and qualified to work with television news once requested through the NGOs.

Both Aguillera and Daniel stressed, however, that it was a job and they needed to be paid for their services.

"Some people don't want to put out," she commented.

Anthony said there needed to be efficient interpreters and noted that the current development of the Trinidad and Tobago National Sign Language could be used as a training foundation for getting more interpreters. Aguillera also reported there was a new programme by the Ministry of Social Development to upgrade interpreters.

Anthony said in other countries Governments had ensured news was available in sign language and noted that local news was not even in closed caption (aside from partial captioning on TV6). Daniel said that for local programming other than news the TTDPI was advocating closed captioning and this would have to be discussed with the relevant authorities, cable companies, and the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago.

He agreed with Anthony that the lack of interpretation on the news was not a global problem and that it was practiced in a number of international and regional countries including St Lucia and Barbados.

Aguillera said she could not confirm whether the National Policy would result in the implementation of interpreters on the news. She explained that officials from Social Development had informed her that they have no control over what is done on television stations and can only suggest what should be done. The responsibility, therefore, was on the managers of the various television stations.

Anthony stressed that Government had made a commitment to the National Policy and they needed to follow up to ensure that the disabled receive the services it provided, including the signed interpretation of television news.

She noted that on this and other issues deaf people relied on interpreters to voice their concerns and complaints and at times it became overwhelming for the few interpreters.

She said that unless issues concerning the hearing impaired were publicised people "don't bother with them".

"They become the invisible citizens of Trinidad," she said.

In most countries the population of deaf people was between two to five per cent according to Carl Herrera, secretary of NGO Deaf Alert. He noted that there was currently no official census of the hearing-impaired in Trinidad though the estimated figure was 10,000.

Anthony said that the Centre was pushing the local deaf population to come together and form their own body, lobby for their rights and let people know what problems they are facing.

She announced that at the end of this month the Centre is planning a meeting for all the members of the deaf community to come together, look at the National Policy and take action to ensure that it does benefit them.

© 2006 Trinidad & Tobago Express