Fighting for Deaf people’s right to drive in Guyana

Second from left: Minister Ramjattan, with the three Deaf Association of Guyana members

The traffic laws of Guyana do not disallow deaf persons from obtaining a driving licence – unless the officer decides that deaf drivers are ‘a source of danger to the public’. Unfortunately, that is precisely the problem – traffic officers assume that is the case and refuse to register deaf persons for the driving test. This means that deaf people are unable to obtain driving licences.

The WFD interviewed via email Ms Sabine McIntosh, the Managing Director of Deaf Association of Guyana, which is also a WFD Associate Member, about the process to change the current situation. The WFD also provided with a letter of support to assist in lobbying.

Has the Deaf Association of Guyana engaged the government to change the law?

There is no need to change the law. But there must be a clear statement and directive to all traffic officers by the traffic chief in this matter.
In October 2015, the Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG) wrote to the Hon. Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister of Public Protection, requesting a meeting to discuss this issue. The meeting took place the following month. The DAG members presented a strong case which the minister was receptive to, and he seemed inclined to pursue the matter. However, he also indicated that he had forwarded DAG’s letter to the traffic chief and had received a negative reply; he provided a copy of the traffic chief’s letter and requested DAG’s response. This was done within a week. Since then, there have been no communication from the Minister, other than from his secretary replying negatively to requests for an update.

In late 2016, DAG approached the WFD to request for support and received such a letter in November 2016. Subsequently DAG solicited the support of two local organisations: the National Commission on Disability (NCD), a semi-autonomous body, and the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), a non-governmental organization. A second request for a meeting with the Minister was then delivered to his office on 7 February 2017. We are now awaiting a reply.

What is the human rights situation in Guyana like?

This is a hard one to answer. Probably, if we are compared to many other countries, we are way down the ladder where human rights are concerned. But compared to, say, 10 years ago, there have been positive changes since – in terms of public awareness and the willingness of government ministries to respond positively to some of DAG’s requests.

The major challenge is the scarcity of human sign language resources, which hampers our own work in a major way. We may say to the Ministry of Health that you need interpreters, but then we do not have the human resources to fulfil that at any but the most basic level. And it hampers all aspects of human rights for the deaf, especially with regard to access to education.

Within the wider Deaf Community, there is a great need and desire to develop their sign language skills. Help is needed urgently in this area as well.

Positive steps achieved include: The ‘Persons with Disabilities Act’ was passed in parliament in 2010

DAG now provides interpretation for the weekly news review on TV of the National Communication Network. The recent budget speech was also recently interpreted. DAG has a monthly televised programme (30 minutes) Deaf News, hosted by a Deaf and strictly with Deaf content. DAG is at present embarking on a film project on human rights to be produced by Deaf youth.