Monday, February 19, 2018

Hearing what the deaf have to say


Enterprise Hub managing director Ashley Mitchell, front, executive officer of the Caribbean Sign Language Centre Nicole Paul, left second row, together with hearing impaired participants of the business start-up workshop Adanna Mutope centre, second row, Paulette Rodriguez right, second row. First row, from left, Kenwyn Noel, Valdano Tobias and Jamal Legen during an interview at Express House, Port of Spain recently. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

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Twenty-five year-old Valdano Tobias graduated from El Dorado Secondary School in 2005.

Since then he has not been able to land a job, his attempts stymied by not having a pass in CXC English but mostly because he is hearing impaired.

"You're deaf, I can't put up with a deaf person (or) give the deaf person work, I don't think that's a good idea," is the reaction he usually gets from potential employers.

Tobias was one of 17 hearing impaired people who participated in a one-day "introduction to business start-up" seminar hosted by business support company Enterprise Hub last month at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine.

Five of the participants, interpreted by executive officer of the Caribbean Sign Language Centre Nicole Paul, discussed the workshop during an interview last month with the Business Express.

"It was...the first time I think for deaf people to have a workshop like this, we were really happy that it was done. We want more. We enthusiastic about it, we learned a lot," said 39-year-old Paulette Rodriguez.

She creates and sells Christmas cards, even fashioning some with sign language for deaf clients.

Adanna Mutope, 27, crafts bags and earrings and also does tie-dye garments while Kenwyn Noel, 31, designs wedding invitations and birthday cards on the computer. Noel said before the course his ideas were "pretty small" but now he understands how businesses can grow.

Enterprise Hub managing director Ashley Mitchell said the impetus for the workshop was partly personal as he has a hearing impaired brother.

He noted it was especially difficult for the deaf to access business support services as the lack of an interpreter would cause frustration for them. He said the aim is to have series of workshops with a whole range of business administration topics.

Paul described the workshop in December as a "wonderful initiative" and noted it "provided badly needed skills".

She said many potential employers believe hiring a deaf person would be a problem but she stressed they can be the best workers. She noted that becoming an entrepreneur was "one way out" for them.

Paul stressed that the deaf community want to "self-actualise" and it was not only about how much money they can make but they want to make a contribution to the society.

Another participant, 25-year-old welder Jamal Legen, said for his personal success he wants to have his own business. His dream is to help build homes for the deaf community.

"I think it is necessary to come together with other (hearing impaired) people and develop in that way, and that will be helping Trinidad and Tobago deaf as a whole," he added.

Mitchell commented: "Sometimes people have all sorts of misconceptions and I think one of the challenges is to disabuse people of the notion that disabled people are less capable or less competent or less interested or less dilligent than everyone else."

He commended Government on the announcement of a $5,000 grant to disabled people to access business development training, which should start at end of the first quarter. He noted that Enterprise Hub has been in contact with the Social Development Ministry who are working out the operational areas.

"So as soon as that is on stream the participants and hopefully other members of the hearing impaired communities would be able to access that particular grant to then go and access ongoing training," Mitchell added.

He said they plan to reach out in the future to people with other types of disabilities. For more information e-mail or you can phone Mitchell at (868) 495 1114. Mutope can be reached at designs and Rodriguez can be texted at 784-2911.