At FUHRIL, Honduras’s deaf community comes together to promote the rights of people with disabilities and try to shape public policy that ends their marginalization in society.
By Jennifer Brookland
David works in silence, unconcerned with the flecks of flame that stream from his miniature blowtorch. He moves around the metal frame of the wheelchair he is building from scratch, carefully smoothing paste onto its joints.
His coworkers at the Honduran Foundation for Rehabilitation and Integration Ltd. (FUHRIL) respect the importance of David’s work. The wheelchairs he makes are sold to benefit the organization, as well as providing meaningful work for David, who is deaf.
Unfortunately, many deaf people in Honduras don’t have such opportunities.
“They are not looked at like human beings. Instead, they are seen like someone who is broken or doesn’t work… So society throws them away,” says Yolanda Dominguez Enriquez, FUHRIL’s Executive Director. “We have been working all these years precisely so that they are recognized as they are: As people first.”
In addition to providing hearing aids, wheelchairs and other devices, FUHRIL promotes respect for the human rights of people with disabilities and tries to shape public policy that ends their marginalization in society.
7 Interpreters & No Sign
The deaf community feels a particularly acute exclusion. There are only seven sign-language interpreters in Honduras. Sign language is so alien to police that they have mistaken the flashing hand movements for gang signs and have arrested deaf people.
Though one of the most important issues facing the country is that of corruption, there is no sign for “corruption” — or relatives like transparency and accountability — in Honduran sign language.
“The issue of corruption, which is one of the greatest scourges of our society, is addressed only to people without disabilities,” says Sandra Espinal, a technical administrative assistant with FUHRIL.
At FUHRIL, people like Espinal believe deaf people have every right to see themselves as empowered members of society who are able to participate in the national struggle against corruption.
National campaign generates attention
With support from Counterpart International’s Impactos program, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, FUHRIL launched a campaign called “Listening is more than hearing: We are not deaf to corruption.”
It seeks to educate deaf and hearing people by placing comic strips on the topic in local and national media.
The cartoons emphasize the little acts of everyday corruption that take their toll on people in a way that could start to seem normal to those who have known nothing else.
Getting the comics placed in a large national newspaper was a major victory for Enriquez, who is now fielding calls from television stations interested in producing public service announcements for FUHRIL.
TV commercials can reach deaf and hearing people outside the bigger cities, who are less likely to have access to the newspapers.
“We are seeing people with disabilities take a greater role in society and wanting to generate the change that ultimately will help them to have a better life,” says Espinal.
The foundation is also working with ministries to have sign language interpreters available in courts, and with the Institute of Information Access to ensure that blind, deaf and disabled people have access to information about what is going on in Honduras.
A sign of success
“This has had a big impact on the cities,” says Julio Soto, through Honduran sign-language interpreter Nora Moreno. “The promoters understand the handicap and know how to attend to them. They now know how to help a person with disabilities and also how to help them in the future.”
At FUHRIL, Soto works as a sign-language instructor for both deaf and hearing people, as well as educating them about issues facing people with disabilities in Honduras. He teaches them how to identify corrupt practices and understand the relevant laws.
Volunteers like Paul Romero who come to learn about disabilities end up with a whole new perspective on corruption in their country—and their role in fixing it.
Learning about accessibility and equality, Romero realized people with disabilities often have their rights violated and that corruption robs them of opportunities to contribute to society.
“We realized many things that we were unaware of were types of corruption within the system,” says Romero. There were things that we would see and, without knowing it, would look at as normal. Now, we have a different perspective and we see things in a different way.”
He also learned that it is up to individuals like him to change things. That sense of awareness and responsibility is just what FUHRIL hopes to inculcate in its volunteers, and especially the youth who are so mired in the corruption and violence around them.
FUHRIL’s Espinal says, “The involvement of people with disabilities and youth involvement generates hope. The root of this project is the increased expectation that Honduras will start to have a different attitude on the issue of corruption.”