Can Hong Kong read the signs on the best ways to empower the hearing-impaired?
I am writing in response to the article on a school for the deaf in Beijing taking part in a campaign to standardise Chinese sign language, starting the new school term with the official sign language version for the national anthem (“Please be upstanding for China’s sign language national anthem”, September 3).
Medical and technological advances have made it possible for hearing aids and cochlear implants to boost both the listening and speaking skills of those with hearing impairments, and these are always advocated as aids. However, the deaf still struggle to keep up with the majority, the hearing-enabled individuals.
Is fitting the hearing-impaired into conventional living patterns really the best way to help them? Does this really allow them to recognise their own identity and cultivate their own ways of effortless communication?
In reality, for the sake of getting a decent job and earning enough to support themselves, the deaf find themselves confronting the dominant norms on how to speak and read. Despite encountering difficulties with lip-reading and mouth-shape mimicry, they struggle harder to learn how to speak a proper language to justify their value and usefulness to society.
We certainly need to end the mainstream hegemonic practice of oralism when it comes to language planning. Sign language should no longer be an afterthought but be promoted in schools. Indeed, many overseas studies illustrate that the spoken language among deaf children will not be hindered by learning sign language. Instead, early sign language training brings benefits like better knowledge of vocabulary, reinforcement of speech development and enhanced cognitive skills.
In fact, deafness can be recognised as something far beyond a disability; in short, as a subculture. Members of the deaf community are shaping and sharing a common language, a collective identity, distinctive norms and organisational networks that allow them to be self-empowered and self-sufficient. What they need is not a chance to fit into society but choices that allow them to shine.
The annual Hong Kong Deaf Festival reflects how the leisure and artistic development of the hearing-impaired is being promoted through various activities and campaigns. This eventually allows them to experience and expand their own world.
Sadly, we still stigmatise these sometimes emotionally wounded and distressed individuals with derogatory labels like ‘‘weak’’ and ‘‘incapable”. The endless stereotypes and misconceptions regarding the deaf community should be immediately debunked.
Adrian Lam, Kornhill