Hard of hearing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2009, 12:00am

For 25 years, the co-hosts of the television programme Look and Learn have been showing and telling viewers how the lives of the hearing impaired are not so different from everybody else's - but the message has been slow to spread.

Co-host Jenny Lam So-yin, whose hearing began to deteriorate when she was three and is now completely deaf, has devoted herself to promoting understanding of the hearing impaired.

A sign-language lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lam says many hearing people are surprised when they learn the hearing impaired can drive, 'sing' - or perhaps that should be 'sign' - and even do dictation in school.

Provided they can hear horns and sirens, the hearing impaired can drive, and, according to Lam, are often better drivers, as they are visually very sensitive and are less easily distracted.

Thanks to the popular Cantonese-language TV series Moonlight Resonance, which features a mute character, we have learned sign language can translate not only words, but music and theatre, for the hearing impaired.

Dictation is actually a way of testing students' lip-reading skills.

Radio DJ Edwin Cheung Man-sun says he has learned a lot about the deaf community in the month he spent as Lam's co-host on Look and Learn. He says many people judge the hearing impaired on first impressions, which often suggest they are impolite.

'Sign language requires vivid facial expressions and big, quick hand movements,' Cheung says. 'People might think the hearing impaired are arguing when they are, in fact, just chatting.'

He explains when the hearing impaired make explosive yells, it is because they cannot control the volume of their voice.

But technology is helping connect the hearing impaired and the hearing. Hearing aids and artificial cochlea are the most common examples. Other devices include flashing doorbells and vibrating alarm clocks that go under the pillow.

Mobile phones are also bringing the world closer for the hearing impaired, largely through text messaging. Even the Hong Kong Police have a dedicated text hotline- 992 - for text reporting. They reply within five minutes.

But old-fashioned aids like hearing dogs and sign-language interpreters are in short supply. Lam says there are fewer than 20 volunteer interpreters in Hong Kong and advance reservations of 48 hours are required.

Without a trained interpreter, a regular doctor's appointment can end up taking three times longer than it should.

Lam and Cheung say more needs to be done for the hearing impaired. Imagine being deaf and trapped in an elevator, unable to talk to the outside world. See page 4 Catch Look and Learn on Sundays from 6.30 to 7.30am on TVB Jade. You can also view missed episodes at www.rthk.org.hk/rthk/tv/look andlearn/



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