Island ‘400 years behind’ on deaf rights
Politicians dealing with deaf rights in Bermuda are “like lions without teeth”, a community leader has claimed.
Franklin Fahnbulleh, coordinator of services at the Bermuda Islands Association of the Deaf (BIAD) charity, insisted that interpreting services here were woefully lacking compared with elsewhere in the world.
However, a Government spokesman admitted that no change was on the horizon for those affected by the problem.
Mr Fahnbulleh, who has 100 per cent hearing loss, said: “Bermuda is 400 years behind the times right now. There's no question about it.
“South America, Canada, Great Britain, the USA, Australia, New Zealand — their governments all have interpreting services for the deaf. Bermuda has absolutely nothing, so the BIAD has to look for funding to keep its own programme going.”
This lack of formal representation leads to unnecessary difficulties and stresses in the day-to-day lives of the Island's deaf populace, he added.
“When I go to see a doctor, if I have to ask for an interpreter, they should be able to make that appointment with interpreting services. If I go to the States or Great Britain, they'll have an interpreter waiting for me when I arrive. In Bermuda, none of that happens,” said Mr Fahnbulleh, speaking to The Royal Gazette via an interpreter outside City Hall on Thursday, where the City of Hamilton held a ceremony to mark the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
He added: “I was driving here and a police officer stopped me and gave me a ticket. I showed up in court, wanting to challenge the ticket. Even though the court knew that I was deaf, they did nothing about it, so I didn't have an interpreter. How can you find me guilty if I don't have an interpreter?”
Mr Fahnbulleh, who works with deaf students as a teacher in the Department of Education, compared this experience with police to a similar one while abroad.
“When I was in Britain, a cop stopped me,” he said. “I told him I'm deaf — he asked me to hold on, radioed it in and they brought an interpreter right there on the spot. In Bermuda, they just speak louder. Come on.”
He blamed the Island's politicians, claiming they were more interested in self-promotion than fixing glaring problems in the system.
“We can stand here and see beautiful speeches being given, but I'm sick and tired of them,” he said. “These politicians talk about the disability commissions, but it's like a lion without teeth.
“They need to stop talking and show action.”
Mr Fahnbulleh suggested that introducing more disabled MPs into Government would help matters.
“How can the politicians understand what people like me are going through?” he said. “They don't understand — if they did, they would actually do something about it.”
He added: “The Government has never funded any training for people to become certified sign language interpreters, which doesn't cost that much money. If they did, I'm positive that many people would apply for it.
“It's embarrassing when I go to international conferences and people ask what types of interpreting services we have in Bermuda, and I have to tell them we don't have any.
“The Government needs to respect us, and the politicians need to update the laws that protect the rights of the disabled.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Seniors and Environment blamed financial difficulties on the Government's lack of action in addressing the issue.
He said: “The Ministry at this time doesn't provide interpreter services for persons with a hearing disability. It is an initiative that can be considered in the future, but the current fiscal space available to us makes implementation prohibitive at this time.
“This is an area where the Ministry would welcome private and third-sector entrepreneurship to support a volunteer programme to provide interpreters for persons who require it.”
• Deaf people needing a sign language interpreter can contact the BIAD by e-mailing at email@example.com, calling 541-3323 or visiting its office in person.