Sign language can save lives, said Dr Eastlyn McKenzie, president of the Tobago Council for Persons With Disabilities.
She made the statement on Wednesday while addressing graduates of the organisation's first sign language class at the Red Cross Building, Signal Hill.
Approximately 60 participants, including children and adults, received certificates in the Let's Sign 2019 programme, which ran from July 8 to August 9.
The participants, who were divided into two classes, learnt basic sign language, the Lord's Prayer and the national anthem during the month-long initiative.
Classes were held from 10 am-noon, Mondays and Wednesdays, at the Happy Haven School for children with special needs.
In her feature address, McKenzie told the graduates of an article she read recently which highlighted human trafficking. She said the story spoke about a well-dressed man, with a briefcase and tie, who was accompanied by a "frowsy-looking" young woman.
McKenzie said according to the article, a flight attendant found the couple looked suspicious and lured the woman to the washroom.
"She (flight attendant) left a note for her and she was able to say the man was taking her somewhere. The stewardess communicated with the pilot and as the plane landed he was taken. And then they interviewed the young lady."
She told the graduates: "What I am saying to you, ladies and gentlemen, is that with the knowledge of this new language, you could save a life. So take it seriously."
The former independent senator also recalled hearing of an incident in which a young deaf girl was abducted and "signing her life out. But not even the police who were witnessing what was happening understood.
"The result was very, very sad. She was taken away and raped. But if only the police had an idea, she might have been alive."
McKenzie said the woman was taken away and raped.
She said Anton Lafond, who takes care of people with disabilities, also told her of a deaf and dumb boy who was headed down the wrong path in life.
"The police stopped him on Wrightson Road (Port of Spain) and for thy kingdom come, they couldn't get through to him and he could not get through to them, because he was not signing and they could not realise that he was deaf and dumb.
"The end was not very good. The end, actually, was tragic."
McKenzie urged the graduates to put their knowledge to use.
"Put your new knowledge to work. Even if you have to talk to yuhself. Tell yuhself ah hungry, ah thirsty (in sign language). Practise what you learn and talk to your children in the sign language."
She said their interest in the initiative reflects their commitment to helping people with disabilities, "people who do not have what we have."
Programme co-ordinator Janet Polle-Peters, in her address, said the sign language class is intended to promote much-needed community empowerment and development services to differently-abled people.
She said the programme will be held again next year.
"This programme will continue for the next five years, at the end of which we are expected to inspire in excess of 150 individuals who are able to communicate at different levels and be a part of the community of persons with disabilities in Tobago."
Polle-Peters thanked the instructors and the council for helping the participants not only to learn sign language but to demonstrate their commitment to supporting the differently-abled in ways that are meaningful and enduring.
Co-ordinator Dotsie Bacchus also spoke.