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December 6, 2004

Breaking the sound barrier

From: The Malaysia Star, Malaysia - Dec 6, 2004


Being deaf is not a barrier to communication or progress, writes PATSY KAM

Fact File

Full name: Peck V. Choo-Kim

Age: 52

Hometown: Kuala Lumpur

Education: Federation School for the Deaf, Penang; Gallaudet University, Maryland, United States

Occupation: Data processing specialist

Current base: Maryland, United States

Years abroad: 27

ADAPTING to a new country can be challenging if youre not familiar with the language. It can be twice as hard if you are deaf. In 1977, Peck V. Choo-Kim, who is deaf, took a leap of faith and furthered her education in the United States.

When she was two years old, Choo had a high fever that affected her sensory and physical abilities. She became deaf and contracted polio after that. When she was five, she enrolled in the Federation School for the Deaf (FSD) in Penang where she studied up to secondary level.

As a child, she learnt to communicate orally and till today, she communicates with her three siblings that way.

It was challenging talking at home as I did not grow up with my family. I had spent almost my whole life in the FSD and I am the only deaf person in the family, Choo communicated during an e-mail interview recently. While socialising with other deaf friends though, she uses sign language.

Those days, there was no such thing as deaf students enrolling in university in Malaysia. Initially, Choo helped her mother run a canteen business in Catholic High School in Petaling Jaya for a few years. Later, she got a job as a data entry clerk but she felt bored and unfulfilled.

Then, after a brief encounter with Gallaudet alumni and history teacher Frances Parsons, Choo made a point to learn all she could about Gallaudet University in Maryland, United States. She sat for the entrance exam and passed.

It was not an easy transition for me to move from Malaysia to America because I knew very little English then. It was a huge step for me. When I arrived at Gallaudet, I was amazed and thrilled to see many deaf people around campus who signed freely, she added.

She is now married to Korean freelance investment banker Robert Kim who is also deaf, whom Choo describes as someone who cannot live without his computer! They met in university and they have a 12-year-old hearing daughter. They reside in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Growing up in Malaysia was a wonderful experience, but I do remember it being difficult for me to feel complete. On the other hand, at Gallaudet, I felt fulfilled. Many of the deaf people came from different backgrounds, cultures, languages and values, and yet all of us were able to share deaf values. I had no idea there was more to communication among the deaf than just sign language. It is also about the culture that emerges from the signs.

Deaf culture means a group of deaf people coming together to form a community and share experiences, common interests and survival techniques. I think communication by sign language helps us to understand each other better. That is why I love to work at Gallaudet University because of the wonderful access to equal communication.

During her first year at Gallaudet, she was fortunate enough to be offered a part time job as assistant research technician and coordinator of material dissemination at the Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI), internationally recognised for its leadership in deafness-related research. GRI researchers gather and analyse data concerning the demographics and academic characteristics of the deaf and hard-of-hearing populations, primarily to provide information needed by educators in the field.

After graduating with a bachelors degree in biology, she continued to work as a full time employee at GRI.

I still work there as a data processing specialist and it has been at least 20 years now. I really enjoy working with both deaf and hearing co-workers there because we have total communication with sign language. I am responsible for disseminating SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) materials and collect data to feed into the computer database. Once I started working there, I truly started to grow. In fact, my roots are so firmly planted now that nothing can move me!

Choo is also an active advocate for the Greater Washington Asian Deaf Association (GWADA), where she works with deaf American Asians to get them more involved in the deaf community. Currently, she is a consultant for a variety of GWADA events.

I have a reputation for being the best event organiser! Choo added with pride. These social events are very important to our members. It brings us together so we can share our concerns, information and other things. Most of us are deaf parents with hearing kids so the events allow us to broaden our discussion on how to raise hearing children in a hearing environment.

Choo does not get to return to Malaysia often, and confessed that she misses her family and Malaysian food. Thats because facilities in the United States are much better for the hearing-impaired which makes things a lot easier for her and encourages her to stay on there.

Peoples attitudes towards the deaf are different than in Malaysia. I see people are very interested in learning more about the deaf culture and sign language. Many high schools and colleges offer sign language courses.

On top of that, we have a law that protects people with disabilities. There is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that gives the deaf and hard-of-hearing people certain legal rights such as the right to equal education, employment, and housing. We also have the right to get interpreters in any public place. All television channels must provide captions.

Before concluding, Choo gave this piece of advice to deaf Malaysians: You can do anything you want. Dont let anything stop you. Sometimes, you just have to find other ways to achieve your goals.

It helps if parents try to listen to their deaf children. They just need guidelines ignorance or domination doesnt help. Be open and try to learn their language to help two-way communication in oral and signing modes. It is high time deaf people are recognised as equals with hearing people.

More importantly, deaf children can and will achieve whatever they want only if they get strong support and encouragement from their parents, friends, teachers and community members.

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