Deaf man sent to mental hospital after not getting sign language interpreter says he was fired as a result

Liu, 32, says he lost job at car repair workshop as he was unable work for six days while in hospital

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 11:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 11:35am

A deaf man who was sent to a mental health hospital by doctors without calling in a sign language interpreter said on Friday morning that he had lost his job as a result.

Speaking through an interpreter on an RTHK programme, the man, surnamed Liu, said he was fired by a car repair workshop as he was unable to show up for work for six days. He has stayed home since.

Liu was moved to Castle Peak Hospital after signing a consent form agreeing to the transfer. He said he did not know what the document meant as he was not good at understanding long sentences.

Concern at deaf man ‘denied’ sign language translator and sent to Hong Kong mental hospital

The incident unfolded on November 30 when police received a call from a 61-year-old woman complaining she had been beaten by her 32-year-old son. She said he was deaf and suffered from emotional and mental illnesses.

Officers sent the man, accompanied by his wife, to Tuen Mun Hospital for a health inspection.

Public hospitals have guidelines stating that medics should arrange sign language translation for patients who are mute or deaf if they cannot communicate, and there is a list of telephone numbers for NGOs that provide such services.

But according to a hospital spokesman on Thursday, the patient was able to communicate effectively through handwriting, and his wife said this was the usual way she communicated with him.

The spokesman said the patient had agreed to be moved to Castle Peak Hospital for further mental health assessment on December 2 and had signed the consent form. A doctor had also talked to his wife and father over the phone, and both had agreed to the arrangement.

Hearing impaired tell of struggle because sign language is discouraged

Liu was discharged only after his sister approached lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and explained to the hospital that he did not suffer from mental illness. The hospital then agreed to discharge him.

Though he was “very unhappy” about the incident, Liu said he did not plan to make any complaint about the arrangement as he was “scared”.

Deaf people usually have very low self-esteem and fear that people will look down on them.
Siu Tsan, founder of Silence

“Deaf people usually have very low self-esteem and fear that people will look down on them,” said Siu Tsan, founder of Silence, a local charity that helps hearing-impaired people. “They will still sign the form when asked, even if they do not understand what it means.”

Cheung said the incident showed that the medical staff were not sensitive enough to the needs of deaf people.

He said that it was unreasonable for them to rely only on the opinions of Liu’s family members after they had had a dispute, and that they should have arranged for a sign language interpreter instead.

The Equal Opportunities Commission issued a statement on Thursday expressing concern over the case. It urged those who needed assistance to contact the watchdog, stressing the importance of providing fair treatment to everyone.