I first met Richard Grant when he showed up at our school to paint murals of the Jamaican national symbols. My principal had hired him based on recommendations from colleagues.
It didn’t take long for me to learn that Richard is deaf. Though I think he knows some sign language, it is common for deaf Jamaicans to not know any sign at all. Can you imagine not being able to express yourself properly to others? Richard uses a series of shouts and gestures to communicate with people who do not speak Sign Language. He laughs more than anyone I’ve ever met.
While efforts are being made to improve special education in Jamaica, the country lacks a lot of the resources that the U.S. has for accommodating persons with disabilities (because of Jamaica’s crippling IMF debt, social services like education are especially underfunded). There are few special education schools on the island, particularly in the rural areas. All of this considered, I had to wonder, how did this deaf man come to run his own business, and how did he get to be so successful?
My interview with Richard was done through written questions with lots of gesturing. I hope that I convey his story as accurately as possible.
Name: Richard Grant
Resides in: Brown’s Town, St. Ann
Born in: Kingston
Have you always loved to paint?
When I was small, I colored a lot. When I was 11, I started painting.
Do you consider your business to be very successful?
Yes, I consider it to be successful. Richard nodded vigorously, smiled big, and held up his two hands stacked parallel. He then moved his hands far apart from one another, rubbed together his thumb and index finger to indicate to me that he makes a lot of money!
How do you communicate with your customers?
With my cell phone. My principal tells me that Richard would contact her via text. Once, he was in her office when his phone rang. He motioned to my principal to answer the phone and had her speak to the person calling and take down the information. Richard then read over the information – it turned out to be another school’s principal calling to hire Richard to paint murals at their school.
Where are your customers coming from?
My paintings are everywhere – other schools, businesses in Brown’s Town, everywhere! People see them and want to hire me. Richard is very well-connected. By doing work with nearby schools and businesses, he’s found his niche market.
Any other information you’d like the world to know?
Richard began to write me a list of all of the schools where he’s painted murals – anything from Welcome signs to educational murals to school beautification projects – and many of the businesses where he’s done work. He did not have enough room on the paper.
Richard grew up near Papine in St. Andrew parish, close to Kingston. He moved to St. Ann when he was 3, and attended a special education school nearby.
Before I interviewed Richard, I knew him by the name most Jamaicans call him: dummy. Jamaicans are notorious for calling things as they see them (in training they gave the example of a very dark-skinned person being called “blackie”), and because Richard does not speak, he is given a name that identifies him as “dumb.”
Richard is a shining example of a self-made man. Despite the obstacles he faces, Richard has managed to be more financially successful than many others living in rural Jamaica without any physical disabilities.
Jamaica is slowly growing its understanding and acceptance of disability. I recently learned about a cafe in Kingston that is entirely run by deaf adults! Check out Deaf Can! Coffee for more information.
Richard’s paintings have livened up our school and left me in awe.
Voices of Jamaica is a semi-regular feature that highlights Jamaican community members and shares their stories. It was created as a platform to share stories of what Jamaica is really like, straight from the people who live here.