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June 15, 2003

Learning : Their dream come true

From: Malay Mail, Malaysia - Jun 15, 2003

Jeswant Kaur

HIGHER education is something most people dream about, but for many deaf people it is a dream destined to go unfulfilled, as there are few education opportunities available to them. However, initiatives taken by learning establishments like Limkokwing University College in welcoming deaf students have not only brought much happiness, but also hope.

The college currently has 14 deaf students pursuing the Graphic Design and Multimedia diploma course at the Taman Mayang, Petaling Jaya, campus. A deaf tutor and a part-time interpreter available to these students to help them.

To these students, the chance to further their education is a dream come true. But they admit that it hasn't been plain sailing all the way and at times they were close to giving up because of the difficulties in keeping up with the lectures and coursework.

Says G. Parameswaran, 23: "I did not know what to do after completing vocational studies. Then my mother told me about the graphic design course offered by Limkokwing University College and I was excited."

Parameswaran is one of four deaf students who will be graduating this year, having recently completed their three-year Graphic Design and Multimedia diploma course. Coming into an environment where the students were all hearing people scared Param, especially when it came to interacting with them.

Speaking through English language teacher V. Yogeswari (who is herself deaf and lip reads), Parameswaran says: "Because of my poor language skills, I could not understand what the lecturers were saying, even if they wrote it down. I would ask my hearing friends for help and they too would end up writing things down, which only confused me more.

"Semesters One to Four were tough because it was the first time I was communicating with hearing people. The only way was for me to improve my language skills, which was yet another challenge. Since I was born, I've had no exposure to language. In school, we were not taught language skills and some teachers in my previous school did not know how to sign."

Lim Hock Chun, 23, faced similar problems.

Says Lim: "At the beginning there were problems because my language skills are poor. With time, I started using sign and written languages and that helped. My hearing friends had to repeat what they were trying to tell me a few times for me to fully understand. I turn to my few hearing friends for help in understanding the lectures."

But, Lim is glad that the hearing-impaired now have an opportunity to pursue further studies locally.

"Many deaf students go to the US, to Gallaudet University – the world's only university for the deaf. Instead of spending so much money to go abroad, we can now continue our education in our own country. There are opportunities here and it would be good if more colleges offered courses for the deaf."

Unlike Lim, Tan Thiam Hor, 23, was not aware of the educational opportunities available in the country.

"When I was at vocational school, I didn't know what to do next, until I heard of the course offered by Limkokwing University College. Initially, I was a little anxious having to deal with the hearing students. Their English was so good and I could not even write in English to communicate.

"I would communicate with Kelvin Suy, my deaf tutor, when I had problems understanding my lectures. I was shy to approach the hearing students because of my disability. They used long sentences and I had no idea what they were talking about. So I picked out a few friends who could understand what I was saying and could help interpret for me."

Hard times

Frustration was common in the lives of these deaf students. Assignments are one example.

Explains Thiam Hor: "The lecturers would give us a lot of work and when our part-time interpreter was not available, our lecturers would explain the lecture to us by writing it down. Three hours of teaching in class was explained to us in 15 minutes with short notes. The information was not clear and it was insufficient to do my homework."

Thiam Hor says it is important for deaf students to have an interpreter to help them follow the lectures better.

"There must also be more awareness on deafness in colleges that open their doors to the hearing-impaired. Lecturers should be aware of deaf students and their needs. Also, the deaf and hearing students should be treated equally when it comes to assignments. Lecturers must have confidence in their deaf students and not underestimate their abilities," Thiam Hor adds.

Another deaf student, Tan Shu Chwan, 23, found Semester One terrifying as he was afraid to interact with the hearing students.

"But in the following semesters I had no choice as we had to do group work together. The hearing-impaired generally have a problem with language skills. But when we were in Semester One and Two, we had Communication Studies and were taught English. That helped improve my language skills and made me confident in talking with my hearing friends. But I still have to master grammar, vocabulary and sentence construction," says Shu Chwan.

Limkokwing University College is the only local educational establishment to provide English classes for the deaf via the International House, one of the best known English schools in the world. Its English language teacher, V. Yogeswari says: "The deaf are technically very visual people and during lectures, they have to be shown a lot of flashcards to help them memorise spellings. What takes one hour to teach a student who can hear, takes three hours to teach the hearing-impaired. The best thing about teaching the deaf is that they are always interested in learning."

Besides International House, hearing impaired students also rely on assistance from some of their hearing friends.

Helping hands

"We are only too happy to help," says Olivin Halim. Together with two other friends, Lim Eng Hui and Pamela Kor Kai Lum, the trio, all aged 22, learned to sign in an effort to communicate with coursemates Param, Lim, Thiam Hor and Shu Chwan.

Says Olivin: "I asked Param and the other three friends to teach me how to sign. I learned the basics in six weeks and now can carry on a conversation without much problem."

Prior to meeting Param and friends, Eng Hui had had no contact with the deaf world or culture.

"I am still learning how to sign. I like having Param and company as friends because they have a great sense of humour. We may be slow sometimes to catch their jokes but their facial expressions are enough to make us burst out laughing. Also, they are creative and learn quickly. But yes, sometimes, we forget they are deaf."

Says Pamela: "The problem for my deaf coursemates is that not many people understand them and if we are not in the study group with them, other students might assume they are slow learners. Their vocabulary is small and we have to use simple English to converse with them.

"People should try and understand the needs of the deaf because they cannot express themselves like hearing people can. The deaf students are gifted and should not shy away from improving themselves. My deaf friends have inspired me to work hard and to become more sensitive to my surroundings."

Education for the deaf

Deaf tutor, Suy, 27, says one of the difficulties deaf students face is having a poor command of sign language.

"If the student cannot read and write, I must explain to them in such a way that they understand the lessons. One way is by showing them samples of homework that I had done as a student here at the college to demonstrate the kind of work that is required of them."

Suy hopes more opportunities for higher education for the deaf will be made available.

"There are a lot of deaf students out there who are not aware of the education opportunities available to them. They should not let their disability stand in the way. At present, five of the 23 lecturers teaching the Graphic Design and Multimedia diploma course have learned how to sign. I would also like to see more lecturers learning the sign language," says Suy.

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