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December 1, 2004

Widening horizons

From: Daily Star, Lebanon - Dec 1, 2004

Learning center for the deaf targets youth

'A deaf person has the same ability as anyone else,' says one student at the year-old center, but society's misconceptions still abound.

By Rym Ghazal
Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, December 01, 2004

BAABDA: They look like any group of students in a classroom, paying close attention to their physics teacher as he teaches them about sound.

One of the students, Wissam Constantine responds, quickly answering what the audible frequency range is.

"It is 20 to 20,000 hertz," says Constantine, with some difficulty.

Ironically, Constantine and his colleagues know a lot about sound - or rather the lack of it.

Constantine was born deaf, but now wears a hearing aid to help him hear and function more smoothly within school and society.

"I want to be a doctor," the 18-year-old says, who is taking high school courses at the Learning Center for the Deaf based in Baabda with hopes of entering college later on.

"I like biology and I like our teachers," Constantine says as he points to his physics teacher, Mohammed Aboud. Aboud is fluent in sign language, with his own parents deaf.

"They are as enthusiastic and as diverse as any group of young students," says Aboud, who teaches science courses to a group of seven students.

"They have no problem learning science and abstract theories, it is rather spoken and written languages like English that is a bit tough on them," says Aboud.

The Learning Center for the Deaf, which opened a year ago, targets both high school students and children from the ages of zero to five, in what they term an "early intervention program."

"It targets the parents of deaf babies and young children and makes them aware of how to live and communicate with their deaf children when they are at a very critical age," says Sana Richa, a speech therapist at the Center.

For instance, the parents are instructed to draw a hamburger and say to the child before heading to a burger restaurant, allowing the child to form associations with the drawing and the word "burger."

"The biggest misconception that parents have is that somehow the impaired hearing will get better with time and hearing aids. But the hearing aid only works with the residual hearing, the amount of good hearing in the child," says Richa.

Understanding how difficult it is for the deaf of all ages to fit in society is an understatement, says Cynthia Abi-Habib, the head of the Otolaryngology department at the American University of Beirut.

"It is so frustrating for them to try to get someone's attention. Especially the elderly. They just withdraw from society and suffer from depression since they can't hear well and don't know how to communicate their needs," says Abi-Habib.

Regardless of their age, the deaf want to be heard and want to work and study like everyone else.

"A deaf person has the same ability as anyone else," says Constantine, who is also a basketball player and hopes to play professionally soon.

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