PROVIDENCE, R.I. — About 80 people, most of them deaf and wearing bright green T-shirts that illustrated the sign language for “equality,” followed by the word “now!” rallied at the State House on Wednesday.
The rally was one of 50 all-day rallies taking place around the country in the Deaf Grassroots Movement.
Some of those wearing the green shirts, which listed the movement’s five goals on the back — education, jobs, language rights, equal accessibility and communication access — were supporters of a deaf person, and some in their own matching black T-shirts were members of an interpreters group.
Governor Raimondo’s outreach manager, David Allard, listened to the spoken interpretation as each speaker signed to the group. When Allard spoke, a sign-language interpreter stood beside him to sign his statement that the governor is committed to creating opportunities for all Rhode Islanders.
Jill DeCosta, 53, of Smithfield, was one of the organizers and spoke of feeling invisible at her job in the Rhode Island Family Court because she is excluded from meetings and conferences for lack of an interpreter.
She said that nationwide, 72 percent of deaf people are unemployed, and that in Rhode Island, the Office of Rehabilitation Services has had a deaf services position go unfilled for months.
Instead of clapping, the deaf-friendly crowd applauded each speaker by fluttering their hands in the air.
A class from the Rhode Island School for the Deaf attended.
Charley Thorn, 32, of Chepachet, who is deaf and who works as an interpreter for the deaf, repeated each speaker’s sign language directly to a woman who who is deaf as well as legally blind.
He said later, through an interpreter, that he appreciated the chance to let “our voice be heard.”
“All we want to do is have equality with communication,” he said.
Doctor’s offices and hospitals often do not provide an interpreter for a deaf person, attendees said, nor are interpreters provided for a deaf applicant at a job interview. In both cases, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that an interpreter be provided.
Rhode Island doesn’t have enough interpreters and lacks an interpreter training program, said Steven Florio, executive director of the R.I. Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.