After years of protest by Deaf persons in Guyana, the Deaf Association of Guyana remains hopeful that they will be able to obtain drivers licences soon.
The Traffic Department of the Guyana Police Force does not permit deaf persons to take the driver’s licence exam; an issue persons in Guyana have been advocating against for the past four years.
Traffic Chief Superintendent Dennis Stephen at the Traffic Department cited that though the law does not prevent deaf persons from driving in Guyana, the serving officers are given the final say on whether persons are fit to drive on a case by case basis.
Stephens notes a major reason they have not issues driver’s licenses to deaf persons is due to concerns that they would be unable to pull aside for emergency vehicles because they cannot hear the sirens or horns, despite the fact that all emergency vehicles in Guyana are equipped with bright flashing lights.
Founder and Managing director of the Deaf Association of Guyana, Sabine McIntosh, met with President Dr. Irfaan Ali in July where she says they had positive discussions surrounding this issue.
“It is in the hands of His Excellency; the President, and it is my impression that he is dealing with it. And I really have no doubt that he will do so. And I’m pretty certain that the outcome will be positive as Guyana is one of the few countries in the world and the only country in the Caribbean where Deaf people are not allowed.”
Deaf persons are also allowed to drive across the US states and all of Guyana’s neighbouring countries. In fact, there are few countries around the world that prohibit this.
McIntosh argues the fact deaf persons are driving in countries with more complex road structures and in some cases more congested roadways means that Guyana is capable of accommodating deaf drivers on our roadways as well.
In 2019, six deaf persons were allowed to take part in a pilot programme where they participated the theoretical and practical Drivers Examination. However, McIntosh says they were treated unjustly when they went to take the exam.
“When it came to the final test, they did not permit the interpreter to interpret the questions. So of course, all of them failed. It is highly unfair; their language is not English. They must be able to take the test in their own language which is sign language.”
McIntosh expressed that the main reason deaf persons in Guyana are unable to enjoy the social and financial benefits of driving is the country’s systematic discrimination against them.
She also states that Traffic Police should be sensitised on how to interact with deaf persons and trained in sign language to communicate with them on the roadways.
Locally there are more than 2000 persons with hearing impairments who are predominantly from Regions Three, Four, Six, and 10.