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September 23, 2006

Reaching out to the deaf

From: Malaysia Star - Malaysia - Sep 23, 2006


SENDING an email might sound like an easy task for most people but not to SMK Methodist Kuala Lumpur student Kan Wai Kit. Up till last year, the hearing-impaired student knew little about technology.

But thanks to the effort of a team of students from the school who participated in the Cyberlinq Competition organised by Maxis last year, Wai Kit is now able to use the computer.

He also has his own personal website where he keeps his friends informed about his latest escapades.

He has even uploaded his photographs – taken during his stint as an exchange programme student at the Oregon Deaf School – onto the website to share with his friends.

The hearing-impaired student also keeps in touch with his new-found American friends and host family via email.

“It was very tough, learning to use IT at the beginning,” he says in sign language, translated by his teacher Choong Shee Yin.

“I tried very hard and carefully followed what was taught by my mentor. Now, I like it (sending email) very much.”

The project, which brought changes to the lives of several hearing-impaired students at SMK Methodist Kuala Lumpur, bagged the grand prize in the secondary school category in the Cyberlinq Competition.

The team came up with a comprehensive plan for training hearing-impaired students in their school to use email as a means of communication.

Wai Kit is one of the participants who benefited tremendously from the project.

Team member and mentor to the hearing-impaired students Chan Zhi Hao explained how some of the participants were first-time computer users.

“One of them did not even know how to turn on the computer when we had the first session, but now they can send e-cards,” he said.

“It was very difficult at first because we did not understand sign language and they did not know how to communicate with us.”

Another team member and mentor Lim Wai Kit said they had to be very patient when guiding the participants.

“We taught them everything, from learning how to set up an email account to sending e-mail and e-cards. They are fast learners,” said Lim.

Once the hearing-impaired students felt more comfortable with using the computer and were able to surf the Internet, the mentors organised a competition for them.

“It was a small competition to see how fast they could go through all the steps of sending an e-card. I think they enjoyed it,” said student mentor Tang Li Qun.

A meeting was then held with the parents of the hearing-impaired students to brief them on what the student mentors had done.

Clearly, it was a project that required patience, teamwork and commitment.

“The language barrier was a major problem, but with the help of our specialist teachers and our IT teacher Puan Munni, we achieved our objectives.

“It was a project worth doing. Of course, it was great that we also won the grand prize,” says student Lim Zhi Wang.

Meanwhile, Wai Kit has shown great improvement in his IT skills over the past few months.

“He can upload photos and keep in touch with his friends via email. He is smart,” said Li Qun.

Cyberlinq competition teacher advisor Muniammiah Saminathan said the hearing-impaired students had to rely on short messaging services (SMS) to communicate with others before they learnt how to use e-mail.

“I must say that all the students were very cooperative. They were very independent and worked very hard.

“I only gave advice now and then, when they asked it,” she said.

Choong also said she was happy that her students took part in the project.

“Students with special needs are mostly on their own – they have their own classrooms, syllabus and rarely interact with other students.

“But the reality is that one day, they need to go out and mix with others in society, especially when they finish their studies.

“I am glad my students had the opportunity to learn how to help the hearing-impaired improve their life through technology.

Student mentor Zhi Wang said the project had taught him a great deal about time management.

“We came to school at 7am and went home at 7pm. Some of us had to skip tuition classes to work on the project.

“But we really enjoyed doing it.

“It was a proud moment when the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak presented our team with the first prize,” he added.

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