Introduction / History There are two main definitions of what it means to be Deaf : socio-cultural, where the core elements are sign language use and involvement within Deaf culture, and physiological-medical, which focuses on hearing loss. About half (100) of the estimated 200 Vincentians with a significant degree of hearing loss are reported to use a sign language. This profile primarily focuses on these 100 socio-culturally Deaf Vincentians.
Where are they located? Deaf people live scattered throughout the country, with the greatest concentration in the capital city, Kingstown. Very few deaf people over the age of 40 use sign language. There was not an active signing deaf community in St. Vincent before a group of mothers contracted Rubella and their children (now ages 20-35) were born deaf. Because of communication barriers and lack of shared experience with hearing people, deaf people tend to socialize within the deaf community.
What are their lives like? The primary sign language variety of St. Vincent is American Sign Language (ASL). There are three special needs schools that accept children with multiple disabilities and also deaf students. The schools use a total communication philosophy using both oral and signing methods. There are few, if any, opportunities for education beyond that offered in the special needs schools.
In general, hearing society has a negative view of deaf people (and people with disabilities in general). Families with deaf children are often embarrassed or shamed and may try to hide their deaf children. Marginalized, deaf people have limited access to social services. There are no interpreters available for most social activities.
A few churches have an interpreted worship service and one church has a deaf group that meets once a week. There are no self-sustaining deaf churches. It is difficult for most deaf people to understand written English, so access to the Bible and educational materials is limited. They may be able to use ASL materials, but community testing for acceptability and understanding has not been done.
What are their needs? It is difficult for most deaf people to understand written English, so access to the Bible and educational materials is limited. They may be able to use ASL materials, but community testing for acceptability and understanding has not been done.
The church is seems to be fairly stable – not reaching some members of the deaf community, but maintaining a fairly active core within at least one denomination.
Most deaf people do not read English or communicate orally at a high level. Few adults over 40 years age use sign language.
There is a significant need for ministry to the deaf community through education, interpreter training, and pastoral/deaf -leadership training.