Saturday 24 October, 2020

Ekka McPhee: A leader in sign language inclusion

Ekka McPhee: Teacher, interpreter and advocate for sign  language.

Ekka McPhee: Teacher, interpreter and advocate for sign language.

As the world commemorates International Day of Sign Languages, one local interpreter and teacher hopes to influence inclusion for the hearing impaired. 

Ekka McPhee is a teacher of the deaf at the Cascade School for the Deaf for 20 years. She’s also a Sign Language interpreter with the Caribbean Sign Language Company (CSLC). 

Having extensive experience in the field, she believes that days like this one are more than deserved; they are necessary. 

“I see this day as a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of knowing and using sign language, promoting the use of sign language and supporting its use in Trinidad and Tobago.  

“Speaking from my experience as a teacher of the deaf, I see too many persons who either live or work with the persons who are deaf not knowing sign language.  I think that persons who are employed in companies where the deaf are also employed ought to learn sign language. Sign language must be seen as equal in status to other spoken languages,” she said. 

Equal treatment is a long way off in T&T, but it’s not unattainable. Ekka says that organisations like hers open the door for those curious about sign language to dive right in, even if they don’t have to. 

“I feel proud to say that CSLC uses every opportunity to highlight the need for equal treatment for the deaf, especially when it comes to providing access to information via sign language. Our team of directors and interpreters, which are made up of both persons who are deaf and hearing work assiduously to ensure that the deaf community of Trinidad and Tobago are given equal access,” she said. 

Dubbed Teacher of the Year in 2018, Ekka, in addition to her time with students, also volunteers to do interpretation for the Ministry of Health press conferences on COVID-19 and the TV6 nightly news. 

She explained the importance of moving unreservedly to a more inclusive and sign language literate society. 

“My message to everyone today is to learn a second language.  Learn TTSL, learn American Sign Language, learn to communicate efficiently and effectively with the deaf persons in our community. Stop leaving them out of conversations, stop keeping them in the dark. How would you feel if someone around has no idea as to what is being said in the room or what is happening on the news? 

“Let us make every effort to recognise the importance of promoting and preserving Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language as part of our linguistic and cultural diversity,” she said. 

International Day of Sign Languages is observed every year on September 23.

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