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June 18, 2006

ICT for the silent minority

From: New Straits Times - Persekutuan,Malaysia - Jun 18, 2006


In the silent world, life in certain situations can be rather difficult. Here's how the deaf are trying to help themselves in the world of ICT.

THE drama was unfolding on television right before his eyes on Sept 11 in 2001, where two aircraft, one after another, crashed into the World Trade Center buildings in New York.

But it was only hours later that Mohammad Sazali Shaari could actually understand what had happened.

He could not hear the commentary that accompanied the dramatic footages of the crashes and the horrific aftermath.

There was nothing wrong with the sound system of his television. It’s just that Sazali is deaf.

"Can you imagine how I felt when I could see the 9/11 episode unfold on television but was only told of what actually transpired hours later," said Sazali, president of the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD), through an interpreter.

From using the phone to reporting an emergency to having to notify their employer that they are on medical leave is a challenge to the country’s estimated 24,000 deaf people.

"If I am on the highway and my car breaks down, I can’t use the highway’s emergency phone to call for help," said Sazali.

Instead of just sitting around moaning about their plight and complaining that no one is looking into their welfare, Sazali and his members decided that one way of helping themselves was to use information technology (IT).

With a RM750,000 grant from Mimos under the Demonstrator Application Grant Scheme, the federation set up e-pekak in 2000, an online programme for the community to keep themselves informed.

The programme, by the deaf for the deaf, was launched in five special schools in the Klang Valley.

The project was divided into two components — the D-School (Deaf School) and D-Administration (Deaf Administration).

The D-School receives support from the Special Education Department, who gave approval to the schools to be involved in the project.

There are tips for deaf students on how to excel in the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah, Penilaian Menengah Rendah and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations.

e-pekak also has forums where the deaf communicate with others by written mode instead of having to use sign language, and it also provides online counselling, information on sign language as well as job vacancies.

It was not a revolutionary programme but it exposed the deaf students to ICT.

After the DAGS grant was exhausted, the federation received a grant from the Swiss-based Global Knowledge Partner, and with assistance from Microsoft Malaysia, it expanded e-pekak.

By January 2004, the e-pekak project had covered Kedah, Perlis, Penang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Malacca, Perak and Johor.

Sazali said the federation also used the project funds to produce a book on ICT sign language because some students couldn’t understand certain ICT terms like ‘port’ in sign language.

© 2006 NST Online.