The qualified, but unemployed deaf guys in Santiago

Whilst staying with my kind hosts, they needed me to go out whilst they attended a private function. I will admit to wanting to chill out on the sofa after lots of sightseeing, but hey you’re only in Santiago a short while so best to make the most of it. My hosts knew you, Cristobal, and kindly put us in touch a few days ago. We agreed to meet up for the evening. You kindly texted to check if I was okay on the day and to reassure me you would wait for me as I was kind of stuck in some small traffic.

We met up outside the metro station, Santa Lucia. Santiago has a number of must-sees, and I thought I had already been up Santa Lucia, a hill famous for its views of the city. When we met and started walking up, I quickly realised I hadn’t been to this famous landmark! “What was that hill I’d gone up last week?” I thought to myself…. agh! A not-very-famous one, much less height! No wonder I wasn’t inspired on that day!

We enjoyed the views whilst walking uphill over paved slabs and cobbles and dusty pathways. We admired the sunset and saw several people taking photos. I have developed a kind of “ugh-cringe” watching tourists taking photos/selfies. What is it with needing to do a silly pose? Poking your tongue out? Opening your arms hugely wide? Raising this leg or that leg? As soon as the photo is done, the person goes back into normal-mode. Its just stupid! Rant over.

I got to know you and Vicente, your friend, as we walked up. We started with the usual pattern of working out our international sign fluency, our different particular signs, then a bit about my travels insofar and what I am doing in the Americas. I later asked both of you about life in Santiago for you and especially for deaf people. I learned a lot from you both.

In summary:
• Many employers in Chile do not want to employ deaf or disabled people.
• Vicente lost his job most recently, and it was blatant discrimination – hearing colleagues still remain there.
• You haven’t found your first job yet. You paid 280,000 pesos (324 pounds) each month for your University education over 4 years.
• You had to pay for interpreters during your degree, this is means tested.
• Welfare is only 104,000 pesos each month (120 pounds). This gives you literally nothing, especially after transport costs at about 700pesos per hour.
• There is a new law as of April 2017 that dictates that 1% of employees should have a disability, but with 18million Chileans this number is ridiculous.
• There is practically nothing free in Chile for deaf people. No freedom pass or reduced travel. You have to pay for your own audiological equipment. You have to pay for interpreters for any work related meetings. You have to pay for interpreters for University lectures, although this does get means-tested.
• The divide between the rich and poor is very big in Chile compared to the UK; otherwise known as income inequality
• Many people, including your families, just think its best for you to move to another country, e.g. Spain. Its bewildering!

Many deaf people are still living with their parent/s compared to hearing people of a similar age, they just cannot afford it.

Marches have been arranged year after year by the Chilean Deaf Association. I saw the deaf association building, it looks really nice, like a huge house. It was given to deaf people by Pinochet, no rent or payments is needed. However the deaf association is totally run by volunteers. There is no CEO or staff to do the work that is needed to bring about change, it is all voluntary and easily exposed to unfair criticism and malpractice.

Many deaf people have given up on the marches and have started to decline going to the deaf association especially since the advance of mobile phones and social media. Thus to form a critical mass to bring about change politically it is a right struggle.

It was rather difficult for me to even try to imagine how difficult things must be for you. It was the sheer depletion of motivation in your faces that striked me, rather than lack of. You both were evidently smart and keen to digest information. You just wanted to work, to do something productive but you have been turned down so many times it has exhausted you. You also know your deaf friends across Chile are almost all unemployed.

The father in my host family lost his hearing at 1yr, he was brought up orally and heavily educated by his Mother. He had acquired sufficient speech and is one of the lucky deaf people today to be in good employment. This is not to say speech is necessary, but it was interesting to note his advantage compared to you in terms of gaining employment; discrimination.

You both asked me a lot about Brexit. I tried to summarise my understanding and frustrations with Brexit with you both whilst we sat a nearby fountain. Both of you passionately listened as I ranted about Prime Minister May, but also how stupid I thought the whole thing was given the referendum was so closely tied. I tried to convey all of this in international sign, but there was also the need to give context, to help you both understand the complexity at hand. I’m not sure if I gave a good and fair summary but then again when have any of us received anything non-biased about Brexit?!

Given that you weree both unemployed, I didn’t have the heart for us to go to a pricy restaurant. I suggested we hunt a cheap place, you suggested a burger bar near your home that is owned by a deaf man. I was intrigued. I’ve been to other deaf owned restaurants, e.g. Mozzeria in San Francisco. We have also had all the recent hype about Starbuck’s employment of deaf people. So why not!

At Inclusiva, the burger bar I saw that the owner was clearly hard of hearing – although he signed to us. Again, an oral deaf person has employment. Amongst his staff was a female deaf signing waitress who served us and got talking with us about employment. She had more positivity about her, she believed things will improve.

We were served a special menu which didn’t cost the world. It was good to see how Inclusiva shows the world that deaf people can run their own business – I could see the awareness amongst the many hearing customers who came for food. I was impressed with the concept, although I could see that for you Cristobal, it was not so motivating. You wanted to do something with your degree in graphic design. The same for Vicente, who has a degree in computer engineering.

For the solo traveller that is me, meeting you both was a reminder just how lucky deaf people are in the UK. It also reminded me of how fed up I got over the past few years with people wanting more and more, especially when they have so much in the UK. Talking with you and Vincente reminded me of how much I have achieved with thanks to the UK system and how I am in a fortunate position to travel whilst considering my experience, qualifications and thus options for my next career move.

It is hard, really hard for me to know what to suggest for you both. I certainly don’t think everyone should just move to another country, but that’s easy for me to say. I just cannot really understand why such a beautiful country with its large income inequality can allow widespread discrimination and not see the economic and psychological benefits to be gained if deaf people were supported into work.

As we said goodbye, it was hard for me to not feel somewhat guilty in a sense, because I was heading to my next destination. I know you both had no ill-feelings, and I would not say you were jealous at all. You both hugged me goodbye and we agreed to hope to meet again.  I wished you both much luck and you wished me luck too. Adios amigos!

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