Sign language interpreters are powerful gatekeepers between Deaf people and a hearing world. Deaf people often require interpretation to communicate with others about sensitive, personal and emotional matters (e.g., sexual health, domestic violence), and may be victims of their interpreters’ values, biases and sense of shame. Opportunities for Deaf LGBTQI+ persons to enjoy LGBTQI+ community and access the services and programmes provided by LGBTQI+ organisations are similarly hindered by language barriers. This project supports those who want to bridge the gap between the hearing and Deaf worlds.
CAISO received over 100+ Applications for the Sign Together Sign Language Classes and we were able to accept 30 participants (selected based on three criteria and eligibility being part of the LGBTQI+ community and/or provding services to LGBTQI+ people). 30 participants committed to the nine months of classes and 17 people completed.
The first year of Sign Together Courses (Levels One, Two & Three) were completed from September 2021 to April 2022.
Sign Together Participants:
The inclusion of a sign language interpreter as a peer leader in a 2018-19 CAISO community safety initiative called Safer Together resulted in a participation rate by Deaf people of one in seven - a record occurrence. When the Deaf participants were asked what was the most powerful way to address homophobia faced by Deaf LGBTQI+ persons, they responded: more hearing people learning to sign. This response inspired the then CAISO Director of Imagination, Colin Robinson, to initiate the development of the Sign Together project.
This project was designed in collaboration with Dr Ben Braithwaite of the Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean. The project includes several linked activities: 1) Training in Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language; 2) Peer Support for LGBTQI+ Deaf Leaders; 3) LGBTQI+ Competency and Sensitivity Training for Active Sign Interpreters; 4) Group Activities.
The classes were led by five Deaf Sign Language Educators who are all self-advocates, with years of experience in teaching sign language. The participants will be guided through the complex history of sign language usage in Trinidad and Tobago, the cultural context and lived experiences of the Deaf community and of course, Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language.
Other activities were organised through the year and recruitment conducted through the educators’ and project leaders' networks -- including training for social service providers and active sign interpreters as well as support for Deaf LGBTQI+ leaders.
Sign Together is a brave space where we learn from each other and journey towards a just future. For more info, please contact CAISO's Project and Community Outreach Officer Johannah-Rae Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org.