Many deaf individuals do not perceive themselves as being disabled. Yet deafness is considered a disability within the context of our society. A disability is “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. Everyone knows that a person with any form of disability has the same equal rights as any person without any form of disability. This includes education, employment, as well as access to other facilities, services and goods.
Every day, we read stories and hear news about inclusion, and how discrimination is slowly being eliminated by introducing legal rights in order to improve access to these persons. However, is this true, or is this being done solely as a marketing propaganda by political parties in a bid to increase their popularity? Unfortunately, indirect discrimination still exists, even though today we are living in an advanced tech world. Malta still lags behind, when compared to other countries, in matters where deaf individuals are concerned.
The lack of adequate technology and services for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing in Malta still persists. One would presume that the simple task of watching a TV programme is a small yet standard right; however, TV programmes in Malta are inaccessible for the deaf since captioning and interpreters are rarely – if ever – provided. There is a lack of interpreters in schools, and because of this, many deaf individuals do not manage to pursue further their studies. The healthcare centres too do not provide enough interpreters for deaf individuals. Right now, there are only 3 interpreters employed with the Deaf Association in Malta, yet these are not enough. The Deaf Association needs more funds in order to be able to employ more interpreters. Captioning in public places like airports should be made available. Customer services and government entities should have someone with some basic knowledge of sign language as well as provide other means of communication, such as live chats and videophones. Hearing aids and hearing aid batteries are provided for free in other countries, yet in Malta these have to be paid for by the person purchasing this form of aid. There are funds available from the government for persons with disabilities; however these are available only for those who are unemployed or with a minimum wage. Hearing aids are very expensive, and sometimes the deaf individual may not afford to buy them. Deaf persons also find it very difficult to find employment, as most employers mistakenly think that deaf individuals are not able to provide a good performance at work, albeit having the same (or better) qualifications and experience as a hearing person. The Lingwa tas-Sinjali Maltija (Maltese Sign Language) should be legally recognised in Malta. Sign language is legally recognized in most countries, yet Malta is not one of them.
The list about the lack of services for the deaf in Malta could go on and on, yet these examples provided could serve as a starting point in raising awareness about the day-to-day challenges that deaf people face. Like hearing individuals, the deaf should be able to have access as well as enjoy the facilities and services in their country.
Deafness is an invisible disability. For this reason, people will not realize that a person is deaf unless they are told or unless they speak with the deaf person. We need to build a society which includes the deaf. Lack of access to communication is what makes deaf individuals different from other people with (and without) disabilities. For this reason, in their day-to-day lives, deaf individuals are not always able to participate in activities within their community, resulting in lack of independence, lack of confidence, as well as lack of security.
Isn’t this a breach of human rights?