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March 7, 2004

Overcoming the odds

From: The Star - Malaysia - Mar 7, 2004


KNOWING that a sound education is the key to success, deaf students Yee Ke Xin and Haw Ching Cher did not let their disability get in the way of their quest to excel in their studies. Against the odds, Ke Xin scored 6As and 3Bs in the SPM, while Ching Cher obtained 4As and 1B in the STPM.

Ke Xin, of SMK Sultan Abdul Samad, in Petaling Jaya, was the only deaf student in her class. She says that at first she longed for her old school where she was in a special class with all her friends.

"I left my old school because they only offered seven subjects for deaf students; I wanted to do nine," says the 19-year-old who aspires to be a teacher for the deaf.

She adds: "In the past, deaf people could not become teachers and there were hardly any deaf schools. Even now, there are not many qualified teachers for the deaf. So I want to teach deaf students and hope I can inspire them to teach others."

Similarly, Ching Cher, of SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang, in Selangor, hopes to improve the lives of the deaf by helping to educate them.

"I want society to know that people with disabilities like me can still be successful in their education just like everyone else," says the 20-year-old, whose brother is also deaf and studying accounting in college.

She adds: "When I was young, I spent three years in a 'normal' kindergarten. I absolutely could not understand what my teacher was saying. I didn't learn anything and I just sat there looking stupid."

It was only when she entered primary school in SRK (1) Jalan Semenyih, Kajang, (a school that conducts classes for the deaf) that Ching Cher begin to interact with other deaf students and communicate with teachers who knew sign language.

She says: "I'm lucky to be able to read and write and communicate with hearing people because not many deaf people can read and write, and many rely just on sign language. I believe that deaf children should be taught sign language as early as possible if they want to be successful in the future."

However, she says that asking her classmates for help wasn't always easy. "I understand when some of my friends get tired or frustrated with me, so I back off and look for others who are in a better mood. I've developed a thick skin," says Ching Cher, who not only plans to be a teacher for the deaf but also an advocate for deaf rights.

"I actually want to be a lawyer so that I can help the deaf community where many are not aware of their rights. I hope that one day, there will be a special court just for the deaf and I can be a lawyer," she says, through an interpreter.

While more schools and services are available for the deaf, many jobs are still closed to the deaf, says Ching Cher. "I feel employers will always be prejudiced against deaf people or offer lower salaries and less benefits."

Ke Xin and Ching Cher say that the present method of teaching the deaf via the Kod Tangan Bahasa Melayu is not only slow and tedious but ineffective.

They say that Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM) is the official and true language of deaf Malaysians, with its own grammar, style and structure. They hope that BIM will be incorporated into the school curriculum as a language subject, and be used as the medium of communication in schools for the deaf.

Ching Cher says there is also the need for more interpreters for the deaf in Malaysia. "Sign language interpreters don't only help deaf people, they also help hearing people to communicate with the deaf," she says, adding that a training centre should be set up.

"I hope that when I enter Form Six, there would be an interpreter in the class so that I don't miss out on anything," says Ke Xin.

Both girls are members of the YMCA Deaf Club and Pusat Majudiri Y for the Deaf.

Typical teenagers, they enjoy going out with friends, shopping, watching TV and reading. They carry handphones and communicate via SMS.

"I feel optimistic about the future. Deaf people are also capable; sometimes even more capable than hearing people," says Ke Xin, who dreams of studying at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, a university that caters for the deaf and hearing impaired.

Meanwhile, Ching Cher is looking for a university as well as a scholarship to pursue tertiary studies.

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