Following Maduro’s Sign Language Video, Deaf Venezuelans Speak Out

Last Sunday, social media and the major media outlets were blown away by the video of Nicolás Maduro and fellow cabinet members in Venezuelan sign language (“LSV” in Spanish). Most of us saw the stream of memes on social media flowing like El Guaire, and most of them were as filthy as that river. Memes aside, the deaf community, represented by Confederación de Sordos de Venezuela (CONSORVEN) wrote an official statement and made their own video in LSV, to express their position regarding this brief and suspicious attempt to be inclusive.

I spoke to Juan Ángel De Goveia, President of the Confederación de Sordos de Venezuela. Here’s what he had to say:

“I think that message in sign language doesn’t mean accessibility. Accessibility isn’t a matter of a minute; the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and our Constitution are perfect legal instruments, the problem is their enforcing. Specifically, Article 101 of our Constitution, we are the only country in the world that establishes a mandatory subtitling and interpreter on TV broadcasts.”

“Then there’s this minute” he said, referring to Maduro’s propaganda. “We could say it’s only a minute, and it vanishes.”

I asked Juan why he thinks this message was done like this, and why now?

“We don’t want to think it’s an electoral strategy, for the proximity of elections. The deaf community is a minority in terms of language, maybe they want to use LSV as a strategy to get votes. We are a small, tight community and our flag is not political. Sign language, to us, is a right. We have a right and a duty, we don’t want it to to be used in a disingenuous way towards our community.”

As to how the community reacted:

“I’ve seen on social media. There are videos of deaf people mostly saying that there are many needs in Venezuela that must be tended to, more important than a message in LSV. Many feel used, or manipulated for a political strategy. There are other versions, some applaud the fact that a president wanted to communicate with them in their language.”

CONSORVEN wrote an official statement, and they’ll launch a media campaign showing what the law establishes for people with disabilities and how to abide by Venezuelan law. “Many people refer in Venezuela as ‘lenguaje de señas’ and the correct term in our country is ‘lengua de señas’. Also, many people refer to us as disabled, and the correct term is ‘people with disabilities’. Those terms are important, and we’ll launch this campaign in social media and other platforms.”

Here are some highlights from the official statement:

This action is perceived by the members of our community, as one isolated action with an electoral purpose, because of the proximity of the elections. This one-minute-long message in LSV (Lengua de Señas Venezolana) is not the solution. If we want to find solutions for disability, with the seriousness it requires, it’s necessary to start tending to the needs of this group. That’s why we want to tell our country,  what the current situation of deaf people is, and in general, that of people living with disability.

Regarding deaf people, our team, after an investigation conducted by interviewing 271 persons in five states, identified the following characteristics, that we present here:

The data collected reveals that even though 67% of the deaf population completes high school, only 10% has an advanced reading level and only 1% has an advanced writing level. Only 23% has access to college, especially because of lack on interpreters, discrimination, exclusion and disinformation. 36% of deaf people in working age are unemployed. 89% ignores the existence of laws that contemplate Human Rights and 92% say they have never been advised by any official institution in that matter.

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