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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, March 3, 2024
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A Day in the Life of a Deaf Person in the Virgin Islands

Dear Source,
Jacqueline is a 27 year-old deaf woman who lives in the Virgin Islands. Living here all her life, she has faced many challenges because of her disability. However, not all of these challenges are necessary. In fact, many services that should be provided by the V.I. Government and the private sector are not provided. Take a glimpse at one day in her life, and you will see the day-to-day frustrations faced by deaf persons in the Virgin Islands.
Jacqueline has a two year-old son named James. One morning, James was playing with friends and seriously hurt his leg. Jacqueline needed help. She tried to call the Police Department’s Text-Telephone service, or TTY, (a telephone for deaf persons that utilizes text messaging instead of audio) to report her need for emergency assistance. However, the call was never received, as the police officers had no training on how to use the machine.
Her next option was to use the relay service, a legally required telephone service that allows deaf persons to place free local text-to-audio calls to all telephone users within the U.S and its territories. When Jacqueline reached the operator, however, she was told that she would be charged long distance for the local call. Jacqueline had little money (and no credit card), so she had to keep searching.
Her only remaining option was to drive her mother’s car. However, she has no license, as no American Sign Language interpreter has been provided for her assistance in taking the exam. Jacqueline finally asks her neighbor for a ride to the doctor.
When Jacqueline arrived at the hospital, her son was taken into the emergency room for care. She knew she would be unable to communicate with the staff at the hospital, as no one there was familiar with sign language. When she was finished, she paid with her son’s MAP card and scheduled a follow-up appointment. She also requested that a sign language interpreter be there for her at the appointment. She was told that there was no policy in place for an interpreter, and that one would not be available.
A frustrating situation for Jacqueline. It doesn’t have to be this way. While Jacqueline is not an actual person, her story is familiar to deaf persons here. More frustrating is that each of these problems demonstrate legal requirements mandatory for governmental and private service providers that are not completely followed in the Virgin Islands. The Americans with Disabilities Act is designed to protect the civil rights of persons with disabilities. It’s time that people like Jacqueline are protected in the way the law requires.

Editor's note: Virgin Islands Advocacy Incorporated, is a non-profit corporation that provides advocacy and legal assistance to people with disabilities, including deaf people in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Mariana Bidart
Virgin Islands Advocacy, Incorporated

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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