Nicaragua brought me a whole new (dark) light but awaking awareness about the Deaf community comparing to other countries that I’ve visited. I’ve seen oppression and injustice that the Deaf community faces in South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong. However, they’re gradually progressing and have better human rights, comparing to other countries – like Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. Out of 6 million people, 600,000 people are Deaf. Nicaragua views the Deaf community as they are incompetence beings. As an “incompetent being,” they’re all trying to fight for their rights, even basic human rights.
Nicaragua is also one of the poorest countries in Latin America, which affects the Deaf community. The Deaf Nicaraguan community doesn’t have much rights like America’s. There are a lot of reasons for that: culture perspectives of disability, economic issues, lack of accessibility, lack of education and more.
After meeting different Deaf Nicaraguans, I learned something that is quite different comparing to where America stands today:
Nicaraguan Sign Language did not exist at first.
Several Deaf and Hard of Hearings were languages deprived – only using some signs from American Sign Language (ASL) or other signs from a different country. Several may only use gestures to have simple basic communication. Can you imagine? Not having access to information. Not having a deep meaningful communication with people. Yearning to know what’s going on with their family or other relationships. Wondering why they’re laughing. Getting frustrated because of inability to have someone to understand what you want or need through gesturing.
The Deaf community did not have sign language until the late 1970s. One Deaf American came to Nicaragua and learned what Deaf Nicaraguan community was suffering. He was appalled at what they were going through and set a goal for their rights, human rights: Develop Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN). Since the new language emerged, Deaf children were smiling. Deaf adults struggled to catch up after years of language deprivation. I heard one story that there was this 60 years old man who had no language of his entire life and learned ISN until it existed. I wonder what were the emotions he was going through when he finally found his voice: his hands. This isn’t a unique story for us because we have heard several stories like this around the world.
They need permission to fly out of the country
I couldn’t believe myself when I heard this. I couldn’t fathom for what any valid reason would that Nicaragua requires Deaf people to have permission to visit other countries? Just simply because they couldn’t hear? Is that a “valid reason”? I cannot imagine such basic human rights were taken away from me. I have some human rights issue as a Deaf American person, but this? I heard another story that a Deaf Nicaraguan male, who wanted to open a school for the Deaf, needed permission to visit Gallaudet University (the only Deaf university in the world) in Washington DC, Sweden and other countries. Fortunately, he had a permit because it made a difference for the Deaf community where he received sponsorship to establish the Deaf school in Managua. UPDATE 2019: Some said that this wasn’t true, and perhaps it was a miscommunication. However, I can still trying to find this out whether it is true or not.
Some lack Spanish skills.
Due to lack of accessibility to language at their first few years of life (which is crucial), they don’t have the access to learning languages. Nicaragua is gradually changing to ensure that Deaf children are learning ISN, but there are great difficulties for those who live in remote areas. Several are not able to read, write or speak in Spanish. Some may able to learn Spanish skills if they receive early interventions, such as learning ISN and/or having hearing aids. There is also further issues to address: lack of ISN interpreters provided in schools which affect their education. However, there’s more. sometimes Deaf children are seen that they do not need further education after primary school, including high school and university.
Several are not able to read, write or speak in Spanish. Some may able to learn Spanish skills if they receive early interventions, such as learning ISN and/or having hearing aids. There is also further issues to address: lack of ISN interpreters provided in schools which affect their education. sometimes Deaf children are seen that they do not need further education after primary school, including high school and university.
What also depressing is that sometimes Deaf children are seen that they do not need further education after primary school, including high school and university.
Not to take personal from local Deaf attitudes toward Deaf Americans
I normally had positive experiences of meeting Deaf people around the world. Naively, I expected that it would be the same in Nicaragua. Then I got slapped in the face in Leon, Nicaragua when I met a small group of Deaf people who did not seem to be welcoming and made snide comments in ISN. If you want to know what happens, you can read this post: Meeting Deaf people around the world 2016. They were making stereotypical comments: how Deaf Americans have money, needing to “chill” our excitement down when meeting other Deaf community and making rude comments about Americans. I read that as they were signing to each other in ISN and mouthing in Spanish – and I know Spanish. They were snickering and scoffing, giving us side eyes.
I was taken back by this experience; however, I learned that I’d meet different people, with a different personality, different backgrounds and from a different walk of life. I can’t always expect positive experiences by sharing a cup of drink together and laughing along with rainbow in the sky and fluttering butterflies; otherwise, I wouldn’t learn something else –
We, Deaf Americans, are privileged
But how is it that we are privileged if Deaf people are already marginalized around the world? Within the Deaf community, we still have to consider our privileges comparing to other Deaf community. I’m Deaf American, and I can travel. That’s a privilege. Deaf Nicaraguans cannot. Although there is some room for improvements and our human rights as Deaf Americans, we are quite fortunate as well. We have more accessibility comparing to Nicaragua or many other countries. America is gradually shifting their perspective about the Deaf community, where some time stood still for others.
Although there are some similarities that many Deaf Americans face, such as language deprivation and some accessibility issues – still, Nicaragua faces it great as it today comparing to America.
Although I do acknowledge that several countries around the world share similar issues as Nicaragua, It was such a rude awakening – especially seeing it for myself. And I know there are going to be more challenges and rude awakenings that I’ll have to face when traveling more countries in the future.