Introduction / History Deaf Panamanians often feel oppressed and discriminated against. Disability laws have been made but they have not assisted the Panamanian Deaf community as much as they have benefited other disabled groups. Many Deaf Panamanians are not aware of the opportunities they are missing because of the lack of communication and knowledge of what is happening in the hearing world around them. Deaf people want the opportunity to learn and become independent.
The majority of Deaf students are integrated into hearing classrooms with little or no signing. They believe that clear communication will provide them access to a better life. Because of this, there is a desire for schools to be conducted in Panamanian Sign Language or the provision of educational interpreters. There is also a great need for interpreters in other public services such as courts, hospitals, media, etc. Currently, interpreters are hard to find in Panama and they are unaffordable to Deaf Panamanians.
It is difficult for Deaf Panamanians to find jobs, unless they are literate in Spanish and able to voice. Most often they work in factories where communication is not required. Religion of any sort does not appear to be adhered to by many Deaf Panamanians. Deaf people socialize mostly on weekends in local malls or central parks. Panama City and David have the largest Deaf communities. There is a fair amount of interaction between Deaf people in Costa Rica, the USA and Panama which gives reason to the idea that Panamanian Sign Language is related to Costa Rican Sign Language and American Sign Language. An interesting note is that the Deaf community in Chiriquí province believe they are culturally and linguistically distinct from the rest of Panama.
The greatest needs mentioned in the Deaf community are for more Panamanian Sign Language publications and access to better education for Deaf people. There is also the need to train parents how to help their Deaf children.