Tactile signing helps mother and daughter communicate after 30 years

After 30 years of frustration, course improves llife for mother and disabled daughter

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 September, 2013, 7:55pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 3:27am

For 30 years, a mother and daughter lived side by side, but were unable to communicate.

Lin Lisha, 34, was born completely deaf, and with a visual degenerative disease which means she can now barely see. For those three decades she had almost completely no interaction with the world.

Even her mother, Lam Wa-on, 60, had no proper way of communicating with her.

“The first 30 years was so painful,” said Lam on Saturday, at the launch of a book chronicling the journey of six people who suffered from deafness and blindness, and the various ways translators and social workers had tried to assist them.

Unable to communicate with her daughter, family life was reduced to daily frustrations and lots of tantrums, said Lam. On most days, Lam would end up shutting Lin into her room to sleep, while she got on with her work. Lam said she was often in a state of despair and sadness.

Then, in 2010, Lam joined a new course on tactile signing, while Lin learned hand signing. For the first time in 30 years, the mother and daughter could actually communicate. Tactile signing is a method of communication based on standard manual signs.

Tactile signing is similar to hand signing, said hand-sign translator Andy Lee. “The translator will sign while holding the hands of the person he or she is translating for, so they can feel the shapes of the signs.

“Now she can actually tell me if this dish tastes good or not. She can tell me what she learned in class, who was there, what she did at the centre,” said Lam. “Life is much happier - it’s so much better now.”

Graduates of the course are the force behind a new pilot scheme by the Hong Kong Society for the Blind providing free support and translation services for people like Lam’s daughter. They will help them go to the supermarket, visit the doctor or simply take a stroll in the park.

There are approximately 390 Hongkongers with different degrees of both hearing and visual impairment receiving services at various care and rehabilitation centres across the city, said Maureen Tam Ching-yi, chief executive of the society.

“Their needs are quite different from those who are just deaf or just blind,” she said. “Even though the numbers of people with both disabilities in Hong Kong are not great, it doesn’t mean that their needs should be ignored.”

It was the society that launched the translation course in 2010. Lam is one of the 60 who passed the beginners’ level. Another 15 people passed the intermediate level, while 11 people in the top level class are waiting to finish their last presentation for the diploma.

Speaking through a translator, Li Man-yi, who was born completely deaf and with serious visual impairment, said: “It was dangerous for me even to go out, so I didn’t go out. [The service] has been of great help to me in improving my life.”