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October 16, 2003

Pity these deaf mutes? No, they are faking it

From: Straits Times, Singapore - Oct 16, 2003

Milking public sympathy to sell soft toys, these pretenders are among the 1,469 illegal hawkers booked so far this year

By Theresa Tan

THE man, who appeared to be a deaf mute, approached a few office girls at an industrial estate to sell his soft toys.

When one woman bought a toy, he thanked her and asked for a kiss on his cheek or palm in return.

A kiss is how deaf people say thank you, he gestured.

Not true, said a spokesman for the Singapore Association for the Deaf, whose 5,000 or so members are outraged by these fake deaf mutes who abuse public sympathy.

They have reason to be.

In what seems like a sign of bad times, people pretending to be deaf mutes were among the 1,469 illegal hawkers booked so far this year.

From an average of 75 illegal hawkers booked each month last year, the number has shot up to 163 now, the National Environment Agency told The Straits Times.

The usual suspects include those peddling pirated VCDs near busy bus interchanges and MRT stations. Others include those who sell cooked food items and even diesel oil.

Some of these illegal hawkers operate in groups and are well organised, with people on the lookout for the authorities. Others are foreigners on social visit passes.

And there are the fake deaf mutes who go around hawker centres, offices, bus stops, and even door to door at Housing Board blocks selling soft toys and other novelty items.

Said Mrs Jenny Ho, executive director of the Singapore Association for the Deaf: 'These fakes tarnish the image of the deaf community here, and we don't know where they are from.

'But their presence creates the impression that deaf people here have to beg to earn a living, which is untrue.'

Mrs Ho added that the association receives a few complaints from the public about these peddlers every year, but assures each caller that none of its members is out on the streets selling toys.

'If we see members peddling on the streets, we will ask them to stop and get a social worker to intervene. We will counsel them and try to match them to a job,' she added.

The Straits Times found about 10 illegal hawkers behind the Bugis MRT station, leading to the Goddess of Mercy temple in Waterloo Street, on Tuesday. None were deaf mutes.

Most were elderly folks and selling a variety of items from underwear to fruits.

One 59-year-old illegal hawker, who had been nabbed seven times before, said he had no choice but to peddle fruits on the streets.

The unemployed man, who declined to be named, said in Mandarin: 'I'm not begging or robbing to make a living. If I don't sell fruits on the streets and make about $20 to $30 a day, how do I survive?'

First-time offenders are fined up to $1,000. For second and subsequent offences, they can be fined up to $4,000 or sent to jail for up to three months.

Administrative officer Judy Lim, in her 40s, said she pitied elderly illegal hawkers but has no sympathy for fake deaf mutes.

A few months ago, she was approached by a man who appeared to be a deaf mute.

She said: 'I used sign language to ask him where he was from, but he didn't understand. He kept pointing to his card.

'Deaf people generally gesture to communicate, but many of these peddlers just point. I had a feeling he was not deaf, but I couldn't bring myself to call the police to expose him.'

Copyright @ 2003 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.