Ever since I started working in the inclusive-tourism industry for people with disabilities, I have always wanted to provide tours to deaf people in sign language.
This would be relatively easy if all the tourists were from the same country.
But problems begin to arise if the tours are offered to a group of deaf people from different countries. The problem is that sign language is different in every country around the world. And even within the same country, there are various regional dialects.
For many people, the condition of being deaf isn’t seen as a disability, rather a communication issue. Many deaf people are already used to a different language, one which isn’t spoken but signed.
One solution for deaf travelers would be for them to bring their own interpreters from home. However, this solution is a very expensive one.
So how could deaf tours work on a more practical level? One solution I have thought about while being in Nicaragua is to supply tours in American Sign Language (ASL), because the United States is only a stone’s throw from Nicaragua, and U.S. deaf tourists would probably be the most likely travelers to use the service.
But whom exactly do you teach ASL to in order to be able to give the tours? An average tour guide would struggle for years to learn ASL well enough to do the tour alone. And if a tour guide used a translator it would bump up the cost of the tour even more.
But there’s an alternative.
In Nicaragua there are many unemployed or poorly paid deaf people who use Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN), which is different from ASL but close enough that with basic training they would be able to switch to ASL easily. At least that’s the theory.
I decided to put that theory to test, thanks to very generous funding from Mr. Jeremy Rowe, a client and friend of my blogs about accessible tourism, AccessibleBarcelona and AccessibleNicaragua. With that help I was proud to announce the “First ASL – ISN Deaf Guide Training Course” held here in Matagalpa earlier this month.
I’d been organizing the course for the past couple of months with a deaf American that goes by the name of Geo (www.seekgeo.com) and Green Tours, Matagalpa.
Geo and his hearing partner Jes flew down from the United States to help teach basic ASL to six deaf people from Matagalpa, San Ramón and Jinotega. We also had a local hearing translator attend the course to learn ASL with us and help out with learning ISN.
Norlan Alberquerque of Green Tours has been helping us set up some basic tour routes to practice the first deaf tours in Matagalpa.
The great benefit of this course is that we are not only providing a new service to deaf tourists, but we’re also providing a vital new source of income to deaf Nicaraguans.
From my experience, a deaf Nicaraguan earns an average of 550 córdobas a month, or around $29. But as a tour guide, they could earn up to $35 a day. With just one day’s work they can make more than their monthly income! This in itself would be an outstanding achievement and a bonus to the deaf community.
The course and future tours also allow for a cross-cultural exchange between deaf Americans and Nicaraguans, which will also allow the two communities to support and encourage one another.
With the combination of basic ASL and the knowledge of how to establish a deaf tour and the use of an English- Spanish dictionary, the newly trained deaf tour guides are ready to begin ASL tour-guiding.
Now all we need are a few ASL users to come to Nicaragua and try out this service. For further information about the ASL deaf tour guide service, tours and prices, please email me at
Craig Grimes lives in Matagalpa. He can be reached at [email protected]