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The Jamaican deaf community is one step closer to legally acquiring driver’s licences, following Wednesday’s (March 11) official launch of the Sign Language Training Programme for the Testing and Certification of Deaf Drivers.
The programme, which was launched at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Kingston is being handled by the Ministry of Transport and Works, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
It aims to empower the staff of the Island Traffic Authority (ITA) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) with the skills needed to effectively communicate with deaf and hard of hearing persons, who will soon be able to apply for driver’s licences.
Director of Policy in the Ministry of Transport and Works, Valerie Simpson, read a prepared text from the Transport and Works Minister, Michael Henry, which expressed his delight at being able to spearhead the initiative.
He noted that it would finally lay to rest years of “agitation and advocacy” by the deaf community.
Seeking to allay perceived fears that the deaf will pose increased risks on the nation’s roadways, Mr. Henry said that the safety provisions are in place to allow deaf persons, who drive defensively, to become motorists.
“Just the practice of driving with vehicle windows fully and constantly rolled up, has meant much diminished communication by sound among motorists, generally,” the Minister pointed out.
“A factor that, to my mind, has made somewhat redundant, the notion of extreme danger for deaf persons who are not able to hear communication by sound among the motoring public,” he added.
Mr. Henry said that a deaf person’s acuity (keenness of vision) tends to be greater than normal.
“We expect these drivers to be courteous, defensive and efficient motorists, who religiously obey the road traffic regulations,” he said.
Mr. Henry also urged the public to facilitate the development, by “learning to accommodate and interface comfortably with members of the deaf community on the roadways.”
The sign language classes will be held on the campus of the Vocational Training and Development Institute (VTDI) in Papine, March 9 to April 3. The first cohort of participants includes certifying officers, record clerks of the ITA as well as the police.
At the end of the training, participants will be expected to engage in basic communications with the deaf.
Course Facilitator and Executive Director of the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, Iris Soutar explained that the training will not only introduce the officers to sign language but will also familiarise them with the deaf culture.
“There are many misconceptions that the general public might hold about deaf persons and, if we are going to work effectively together, we have to erode some of those misconceptions so they can have an appreciation for the deaf,” she said.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Andrew Gallimore, who has portfolio responsibility for persons with disabilities, lauded the efforts of organisations such as the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, the Combined Disabilities Association and the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities for fighting “long and hard” for the implementation of the initiative.
“This is an occasion worth marking, because it demonstrates that we are becoming more mature as a country and as a people. Indeed, if we want to become a truly developed country, we have to make sure that all our citizens can feel comfortable and can lend their efforts to the growth and development of our country,” he said.

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