Monday, May 27

Ensuring a more inclusive world for the deaf


Brigid with her customers.

DID you know that 160,000 Malaysians are hearing impaired? Statistics show the majority of them are Malay, with just 9 per cent being non-Malay.

While many have been able to attend mainstream school through the policy of inclusive education, some still face barriers when it comes to getting an education, especially in more rural areas.

Scenario in East Malaysia

In Miri, Victor Hii is one of the most high profile and popular people with hearing impairment. He runs marathons and is gainfully employed. He is married with lively children. Hii inspires many to run marathons and goes all over Malaysia to run, often with his wife. His most recent marathon was in Penang.

A corner of the coffee shop.

He is an active member of Grace Methodist Church and has encouraged church friends to use Malaysian Sign Language.

A primary school teacher said deaf pupils in Miri have the option to attend the Community Based Rehabilitation Centre (PDK) or Jalan Bintang Primary School.

About 10 years ago, some deaf children were sent to Kuching to study.  It would have been a very daunting experience for them — to be alone and away from home.

“Deaf children can perform well in school when they learn sign language and pick up different subjects. Most are very hardworking and excel academically. Those who reach Form 5 may wish to take up a skill and join the workforce to support themselves if their families cannot support them further,” she told thesundaypost.

“A few have found jobs in bakeries throughout Sarawak, one or two are in the hairdressing industry. We ourselves have to learn to appreciate them and accept them in the workforce.”

Each state has at least one school for the deaf children. There are now 24 primary schools, two vocational schools, and one secondary school for the deaf. There are also private deaf schools.

Unfortunately, some of the schools do not have adequate facilities for the deaf. In Sabah, there are several private kindergartens for deaf children. For Primary 1, the children go to a deaf school and use Malaysian Sign Language.

The hearing-impaired corner where customers can learn something new.

Hearing teachers only know and use Signing Exact Malay, using the word order and other aspects of the grammar of the national language. Few teachers are competent in International Sign Language and can interpret for the deaf.

Scenario in Peninsular Malaysia

In Peninsular Malaysia, things are slightly better. According to one report, there are over 20 deaf youths studying at tertiary level.

Social worker C Lee said one of the main obstacles preventing the deaf from going on to tertiary education is their poor English grades.

“However, we all know that it is not really easy to provide special English courses for the  young deaf children because of the shortage of funding. The special courses could really help them to have a better future. Some intensive courses in the English language before they apply for entry to universities can help also.

“Usually in my experience, most deaf children join polytechnics and other programmes if they know about them. But unfortunately they can only get lucky if they are assisted by friendly adults, who will guide them to do apprentice work with bakeries, hairdressers, restaurants. Anyway the situation is getting better with the government and private sectors becoming more benevolent.”


The welcoming and clean cafe environment.


Special education

In the olden days, parents were too embarrassed to bring their deaf children out in public. Nowadays, they are willing to seek help everywhere.

One parent recently even sponsored a private picnic for the special needs children together with a school’s special education teacher. According to the delighted parent of another deaf child, the children had a great day.

“Teachers in Malaysia must be better trained to teach the deaf otherwise our deaf children will suffer. What can my daughter look forward to? If she is not good in her studies, she will become a hairdresser or a beautician. I wish we have teachers like the famous Laurent Clerc, who with principal Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet founded the Gallaudet University and many deaf schools,” said a mother of a deaf child.

“Laurent Clerc himself was born hearing but because of a fire, he lost his hearing at the age of one. I wish my seven-year-old daughter could look forward to something better, but we are not rich enough to send her overseas.”

Lee’s partners are deaf and also work in the coffee shop.

Deaf-owned cafes globally

There are deaf cafes around the world. In France, there is a café named 1000&1 Signes — the first deaf owned café in France. Patrons can leave the cafes with, at the very least, familiarity with sign language. Most of the patrons are hearing and they order by pointing. The menus have pictographs.

Beijing’s Silence Coffee is well patronised and is popular with the Hutong-visiting crowd.

Newspapers in Europe often capture inspiring deaf-related stories.

For example,  Cologne based Sign It, which arranges pop up sign language events in cafes began as a student project aimed at increasing the interaction of deaf people and those who can hear.

Sign It, an independent business, helps people to understand deafness and provides more opportunities of deaf people who want to work in the food sector. Germany has an 80,000-strong deaf community.

Manager Frederike Hofermann, who is hearing, has been famously quoted for saying, “Deafness is not a problem. The misconceptions of society are the problem.”

The All Day Biggy Breakfast with free flow of coffee.

KL’s Coffee Sprex

Coffee Sprex has been around for sometime in Kuala Lumpur and has been getting good reviews on social media.

A patron commented, “Have been going there every week for the past year since I found out about them. Great food, clean environment and good price. Great place for family …”

Another patron added, “I love the ‘home cooking’ without having to bring out any cooking utensils! WELL DONE and keep up the good work …”

William Chin said while enjoying a big breakfast and free flow organic coffee, “I love the Biggy Breakfast here with free flow organic coffee. You cannot get a better deal than this in Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya. The popularity of Coffee Sprex grows when customers spread by word of mouth. Social media helps very positively.”

A unique feature of Coffee Sprex is their regular events of bringing coffees around the world for testing and tasting. One has to catch up on the news from their Facebook page. Recently, the cafe organised a coffee tasting with coffees from Sarawak (Liberica), Indonesia (Arabica) and Cambodia (Robusta and Arabica). It was a great experience for coffee aficionados.

Delicious spaghetti from Coffee Sprex.

Coffee Sprex is owned by Bernard Lee, his wife Brigid, and a few members of the deaf community of Kuala Lumpur. Everyone who works in the shop is deaf.

Anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur and would like to have a very special outing, Coffee Sprex is the place to go to.

“It would definitely be a good idea to spread our business in Malaysia as a way to help the deaf. We are working happily together, to provide a good service to everyone who needs catering service. Many like our idea and so they are in fact helping with a good cause when they order our food for their functions or come to our little place for good clean and well cooked food,” said Lee.

With a lot of encouragement from the public and private sectors and development in the Malaysian education system, hopefully more deaf Malaysians will become gainfully employed, enter universities both local and overseas, and be accepted by all with open arms.

And why not have a Coffee Sprex in Miri or Kuching? It would really create a very inclusive environment.

No one can sum up better than writer of many books and Oscar winning actress, Marlee  Matlin, who is deaf, “The handicap of deafness is not in the ear; it is in the mind.”