Introduction / History There are two main definitions of what it means to be Deaf : socio-cultural, the heart of which is sign language use and an involvement within Deaf culture, and physiological-medical, which focuses on hearing loss. Forty percent of all Guatemalans with a significant degree of hearing loss are believed to use a sign language, making between 28 and 256 thousand Deaf Guatemalans with a Deaf ethno-linguistic identity. This profile primarily focuses on these Deaf Guatemalans.
Deaf people live scattered throughout the entire country, with the greatest concentration in the capital city. The primary sign language variety of Guatemala is called El Lenguaje de Señas Guatemalteco (LENSEGUA). In areas with little access to education, such as in the northern Peten, Deaf people are never exposed to a fully developed language. Because of communication barriers and lack of shared experience with hearing people, Deaf people tend to socialize within the Deaf community.
Marginalized Deaf people have limited access to social services. Most Deaf people are unemployed, and less than 50% of Deaf Guatemalans receive formal education. The education they do receive is often ineffective. Of the twelve Deaf schools, none offer secondary education. Deaf people who want further education often do so without interpreters.
Following overall trends, Deaf people are mostly culturally Christian (Catholic or Protestant). However, there are no self-sustaining Deaf churches, and less than 1% of Deaf Guatemalans have accepted, let alone understood, the Gospel. There are less than 100 attendees in the seven Deaf ministries within hearing churches, and only two of these ministries are Deaf -led. To every 3-28 thousand Deaf people, there is less than one missionary/pastor/evangelist. There is no Scripture translated into LENSEGUA and literacy in their second language, Spanish, is very low. Six Deaf Christian leaders hope to plant churches in the two largest cities. Many want to know more about Christ and have an openness to cross-cultural workers of all kinds.