TOMORROW is International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
No matter who you are, or what type of disability one may or may not have, the best thing to witness on this blessed day is to see the two worlds coming together to learn from each other.
I was privileged to be among 80 hearing participants last Saturday where I saw this happen.
We were at a one day sign language class that was jointly organised by the Lion’s Club and the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ).
I was surrounded by scores of excited and eager faces that really couldn’t wait for the classes to begin.
Many of them were young people. Most of them, if not all, were learning the language for the first time.
Sign language, of course, is the language of the Deaf.
Instead of being forced to read lips or lip read, a growing number of Deaf people prefer to use sign language to communicate.
It is a system of hand and body movements representing words, which is used by and to people who cannot hear or talk.
Sign language is a much easier, less complicated and more natural form of communication than all the other methods.
Those who “speak” it vouch that it is also a unique language that is able to express ones’ deepest and innermost thoughts and emotions unlike any other.
Despite the many obstacles that the Deaf still face in Malaysia, it is amazing to note how much the Deaf community have progressed in recent times.
For instance, the Deaf prefer to use capital “D” in spelling out the word “d-e-a-f” when a general reference is made about them.
This is to draw a clear distinction from their physical and medical condition compared to the rich life they enjoy and celebrate in a silent world called “Deaf culture”.
In fact, quite a few Deaf people are extremely content with their lives.
So much so that many are not at all interested in the ability to hear but rather, wish to go on living their lives in a world that ought to cater for their special needs.
This is difficult for us in the hearing world to understand. That is because we depend so much on sounds.
However, for the Deaf, the world of sounds has little or no relevance at all.
Yogeswari Chaujer is a Deaf lecturer at Limkowing University of Creative Technology.
Besides being a strong advocate for the Deaf students at her university, Yoges is a gutsy, unassuming woman also conducts workshops on other social issues such as prevention of child sexual abuse and sexuality and relationships.
In an email to Wheel Power, Yoges pours out her heart for the local Deaf community:
1) The Deaf need a good outreach programme. Deaf children need to be reached out to as early as possible in their lives. All Deaf children should go to school. They need to be taught sign language skills. Older kids need to be started on speech therapy programmes with their parents playing a supportive role.
2) Sign language skills are a must. Some parents of the Deaf do not make an effort to learn sign language. Without it, there is a serious break down in their communication channel. The Deaf individual becomes vulnerable without any guidance from his or her parents.
Yoges recalls an incident where she had to deal with an 18-year old young woman who didn’t understand her menstrual cycle. She was terrified that she would eventually bleed to death.
3) Better education system for the Deaf: The Education Ministry’s recent promise to bring in more than 300 foreign experts to monitor and teach English to local teachers should also be applied for education for the Deaf with foreign Deaf experts.
Currently, there are many teachers in Deaf schools who poorly skilled in sign language. They also have a limited knowledge of their lifestyles and Deaf culture.
Yoges points out that during one of her recent visit to a Deaf school she came across a teacher who was desperately trying to make her hearing impaired students understand her by talking to them!
She also cites the government’s generosity to the disabled community by giving students pursuing higher education about RM3,600 a year in the form of allowances and RM1,400 for payment of fees for a year. However, it’s like the Chinese proverb, she says.
“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. But teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”.
“Therefore, if good education is given from the start, the Deaf community would be independent and be on the right footing in securing better and meaningful jobs.”
Yoges’ other points include offering more focused special education courses at the university levels, give an equal focus on the needs of the Deaf when talking about other disabled people and training up more sign language interpreters and speech therapists for the Deaf community.
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