The highs and lows of being a deaf entrepreneur

(From left) Cecelia Pryce, Althea Foster and Phyllis Jeffrey spell out the word ‘deaf’ in sign language. (Photos by Shahein Fitzpatrick)
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To mark International Week of the Deaf, Observer’s Shahein Fitzpatrick talks to a trio of business-owners running a sewing enterprise in St John’s craft market

Story and photos by Shahein Fitzpatrick

Three deaf women who have owned and operated a sewing business for over a decade have revealed some of the challenges they face as disabled entrepreneurs.

Antiguans Cecelia Pryce and Phyllis Jeffrey, and Althea Foster who is from Jamaica, spoke to Observer through sign language interpreter, Dianne Archibald. 

They said one of the hardest things they have to deal with is ridicule from some hearing individuals who poke fun at their speech.

“Some of the challenges that we have is that we have persons that would pass us and laugh, making fun of us because we are deaf,” Jeffrey explained.

“Sometimes children and adults would laugh at us when we are signing; they make fun of us. 

“It makes us feel sad, because we are working hard and we have people laughing at us.”

Pryce said the trio deal with that “by keeping quiet and ignoring them”.

“We want people to know not to laugh at deaf persons because God is watching,” she continued. “Another challenge we have with people is that sometimes when we finish making the clothes, people wouldn’t come back for the clothes; we would then have a lot of the made products in the store.”

They communicate with their hearing customers who don’t know sign language by lip-reading or writing notes to them.

The ladies shared that, regardless of ignorance from a minority, they “feel good” at having their own business together – and said the kinship between the three of them keeps them strong.

And while having a disability can be a struggle, the ladies said their families are also a constant source of support.

Pryce continued, “Sometimes we would go out with our deaf friends but sometimes we are busy. Sometimes our friends would come to our business place and we would talk and have fun and this is usually on Fridays.”

Jeffrey said, “Sometimes we share our problems together.”

“We don’t feel lonely; we are friends and we feel good being together,” Pryce said.

Foster explained that she learned to sew back home in Jamaica. “I like sewing. I learned sign language in school in Jamaica, with the different subject areas like math, I learn in high school also,” she told Observer.

Pryce explained that the enterprise, which operates from the craft market in St John’s Wednesdays to Saturdays, began in 2007. It manufactures a wide variety of garments from scratch and does alterations too.

“Every day we work; we make uniforms for schoolchildren. Sometimes business is slow, it is slow now because we don’t have the tourists from the ships,” she said.

When asked how persons in Antigua and Barbuda can support the deaf, Jeffery said, “Persons can support us by coming and buying the clothes that we make, and bringing their business to us.”

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