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June 29, 2003

Learning sound of silence

From: Bangkok Post, Thailand - Jun 29, 2003

Deaf teach speech to non-handicapped

Anjira Assavanonda

It was a language class, but no words or sounds were uttered. Everybody just used the movements of their hands and expressions on their faces to talk to each other.

When they introduced themselves, their hands were shaped in different gestures. And when they clapped, their claps even made no sound, just the raising and shaking of both hands.

That's what ''sign language'' is all about. It is a communicating tool normally used by the deaf.

Although Saturday's class was conducted by 12 deaf sign language experts, the class was not for the deaf.

Instead, the more than 60 students who turned up were just normal people of working ages whose lives have been involved with the deaf and wanted to learn to better communicate with them.

Saturday was the first day of the 30-hour, six-day course at the Rajanukul Institute in Bangkok.

The students were divided into six groups, each having two teachers to guide them.

The programme was organised by the Thai Disabled Development Foundation with financial support from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. The aim is to promote better communication and understanding between the deaf and ordinary people.

Poungkeo Kichtham, the foundation's general manager, said this was the biggest sign-language course for ordinary people ever held in the country. She said a lot of people have shown interest in the programme, and she was glad to see such a big class.

Pranee Wongchanpen, 25, a state official at the Criminal Court's Foreign Affairs Division, said she was looking for a better way to communicate with deaf defendants who often have problems when dragged into the judicial investigation process.

''It is hard to find sign-language translators for them and that puts them in a disadvantageous position in court. I want to help them fight for justice,'' she said.

Kusuma Venzky-Stalling, a lecturer at Thammasat University's Fine Arts Faculty, said her drama department usually produced an annual play performed by the deaf, and she wanted to understand what makes them click.

''Deaf people can be really expressive. Many looked incredibly good and fun to watch when acting in their own language,'' said Ms Kusuma.

There is no cure for deafness. Even those suffering from only mild hearing impairments have to rely on hearing aids.

''If we have to live and work with the deaf, the only way is to adjust ourselves to their needs,'' she said.

Smiles were everywhere in class when the deaf teachers and their normal students started interacting.

''What was taught on the first day was just basic stuff, yet we hope those completing the course would no longer be shy to help the deaf, which is normally the case,'' said Ms Poungkeo.

©Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2003