Let's hear it for a good cause

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 December, 2006, 12:00am

Asking for a napkin might be a simple request for most people, but for hearing-impaired students it is about making a breakthrough.

Kelly Cheung Chui-fong, 17, first tried to ask for one at a fast-food restaurant when she was in Form One. 'My mother said I must ask by myself that time,' she said. 'I was very nervous because I was afraid others might not understand what I said. But finally I succeeded.'

A napkin also caused embarrassment for Sue Koon Tak-wan, 17, when she asked for one at a trade fair. 'I spoke to the salesman but he thought I was speaking in English,' she said. 'I repeated the request but he still couldn't understand. I remember how impatient and weird his look was. It made me feel embarrassed. It seems that people are nicer if we speak better.'

Children with hearing impairments usually have difficulty in pronunciation. Since kindergarten, Kelly and Sue have received language training at Chun Tok School, which offers education and supporting services to hearing-impaired students and is one of the 27 beneficiaries of Operation Santa Claus.

With hearing aids eventually implanted, the Form Five students can hear and speak fairly well.

'I got my implant in Primary Two,' Sue said. 'I remember the first time I heard my own voice, I found it very funny. I kept uttering sounds. My father thought I was going crazy.'

But implants can cause headaches and have other side effects. 'It can be so painful that I simply can't work. I need to have an injection every five years to combat the side effects,' Sue said.

Computers and projectors have made communication easier but watching television and having a telephone conversation are still difficult. 'We can talk on phone but one must speak slowly. For television, it's hard to understand fully without subtitles,' Kelly said.

An exchange programme with a mainstream school made Kelly and Sue realise how lucky they are at Chun Tok. 'We sat in a classroom with 40 students. The teachers spoke so fast that we couldn't grasp what they were saying. Here we only have 10 to 15 in a class. Teachers pay a lot of attention to our progress,' Sue said.

Apart from wishing for good health and academic success in upcoming exams, both girls aspire to prove their abilities.