We use words to communicate our thoughts, opinions and how we interpret the world around us – but what about a Deaf person who cannot hear? Their ability to communicate verbally and audibly is limited to the use of Sign Language, digital means and pen and paper.
However, if we are to shape and build a more inclusive society, we need to include the hearing and speaking impaired community because their voices and opinions matter.
Learning and communicating in one’s own mother tongue is a basic human right that the Deaf community in Malaysia has been deprived of. – Harry Tan Huat Hock, Secretary-general of The National Union Teaching Profession (NUTP)
In Malaysia, the primary method of communication among the Deaf community is Malaysian Sign Language (MSL) or Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM). However, the adaptation of MSL has been hindered due to the pre-existing Kod Tangan Bahasa Malaysia (KTBM/) which is used in most schools.
KTBM is ineffective and very difficult for Deaf students to understand. It’s not a language but a code that is very time consuming and puts emphasis on sentence structure instead of vocabulary. Whereas BIM conveys the whole story. – Harry Tan Huat Hock, Secretary-general of NUTP
The BIM has been recognised as the official sign language for the hearing impaired by the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. This has given leverage to parents and educators who insist on using BIM in schools. BIM is also a mother tongue for many. Enforcing its usage makes way for students to improve.
The Deaf students should not be sidelined. Being Deaf does not mean they are slow and stupid. – Harry Tan Huat Hock, Secretary-general of NUTP
With the ongoing battle to ensure the rights of the Deaf community, several individuals have raised the bar on what it means to help the Deaf.
#1: Firdaus – The Pharmacists Teaching Sign Language
In 2018, Mohd Firdaus Abdullah bagged the IMU Aflame Student Award for his voluntary services toward the hearing and visually impaired.
Deaf culture has always been rather misunderstood by the public and Deaf people in Malaysia are often discriminated against at the workplace and also in education systems. – Mohd Firdaus 
Firdaus took it upon himself to take up sign language courses so that he can volunteer at the Society of the Blind and RC Deaf Malaysia.
According to Firdaus, there’s a stigma perceived by members of the public towards the Deaf community.
Some people might be uncomfortable when confronted with people with disability. One of the possible reasons is that some people feel sorry for them and assume they are bitter about their disabilities. This is untrue in many cases. Many people with disabilities feel enriched by their experiences with disability, and even if given the chance to erase their disability, they would choose not to. – Mohd Firdaus Abdullah.
His helping hands go a long way back where he served in soup kitchens and provided medical supplies to those in the streets. Giving himself to those in need is deep-rooted in Firdaus’ actions.
The 28-year-old Pharmacist from University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) will be teaching sign language to fellow pharmacists later in March this year.
According to Firdaus, the usage of sign language among Malaysians can be improved as it gives the Deaf community greater access to healthcare, eliminating communication boundaries.
I feel that more and more people need to realise the need of learning sign language especially in the healthcare setting – Mohd Firdaus Abdullah
Firdaus also emphasised the importance of learning the strengths and weaknesses of other communities and being empathetic towards others.
We could learn all the languages in the world but if we don’t put ourselves in their shoes and learn their struggles – our hardships don’t matter – Mohd Firdaus Abdullah
#2: Ling Fong – Economics Graduate Turned Sign Language Teacher
When Ling Fong graduated from Economics education, she never would have imagined what was in store for her. With the lack of vacancies for teaching economics, special education was offered in Sabah. Within 6 months, Fong mastered sign language and has ever since carried the torch for the Deaf community.
Fong’s also been consistent in ensuring her students receive the best form of education. During the pandemic, she created YouTube videos as a teaching aid.
Going the extra mile, she forked out her own funds for plane tickets to spend quality time with her students. Fong was awarded the McDonald’s Anugerah Guru Inspirasi 2021 after being nominated without her knowledge.
A lot of preparation and thought are put into carrying out new ideas, such as effective teaching materials for remote learning while keeping that spark of curiosity alive among our children. That is a huge responsibility, and these teachers that we are celebrating today carry this load with so much heart and zeal. – Azmir Jaafar, Managing Director and Local Operating Partner of McDonald’s Malaysia.
#3: Tan Lee Bee – Malaysia’s National TV sweetheart
For 25 years, unsung hero Tan Lee Bee has been serving national television as a sign language interpreter. She gained recognition during the Covid-19 pandemic and Malaysians have appreciated her service.
Apart from television, Tan offers translation services in courtrooms and corporate settings. On TV, she makes sign language look effortless. But in reality, it takes more than just finger and hand movements to keep the audience engaged. Tan uses facial expressions and controlled body language to make her communication come alive.
Even though our roles (as interpreters) seem small, I am happy with this responsibility because we can create great impact with the delivery of accurate information to the Deaf community. – Tan Lee Bee
Her success and recognition as a translator stemmed from learning the language to communicate with her hearing-impaired sibling.
Prior to her career on screen, Tan served as a teacher for 17 years at the Selangor School For Deaf.
#4: Anthony Chong – Universiti Malaya’s First Deaf Doctorate Now Advocates For Other Deaf People
Being Deaf and looked down upon as someone with a disability made it hard for Anthony Chong Vee Yee to appreciate his identity.
My parents never told me about Deafness as a linguistic identity. I was told it was a disability. In reality, these two concepts – the linguistic identity and the disabled identity – are completely different. – Anthony Chong.
After attending a conference that changed his life, Chong began to read many more books on sign language and eventually co-authored several sign language reference books.
In 2021, he achieved an academic milestone when he received his PhD in anthropology and sociology. Chong also earned the title of being Universiti Malaya’s first Deaf doctorate using Malaysian Sign Language as a medium for communication.
I also hope that this news will encourage more Deaf people to pursue a PhD regardless of their struggles. – Anthony Chong
Despite his achievements, Chong is not done yet. He wants to continue raising awareness about the Deaf community and is calling upon government officials, policymakers and society to do better in terms of serving the Deaf.
#5: Anissa Jailani – Tik Tok Sensation Signing To Raise Awareness
Perak born Anissa Jailani has gained fame through her TikTok videos that teach people how to sign using the Malaysian Sign Language. Having garnered over 560,000 TikTok followers, Anissa is determined to teach anyone interested in the language, including how to gesture common phrases.
Her curiosity about the app led to her newfound success, and she continues paving the way for many. This strong-willed, vibrant and Deaf young lady is making waves on Tik Tok and challenging society to be more inclusive even in our language.
Changemakers For The Deaf
Listed are some organisations that support, educate and amplify the voices of the Deaf community:
- RC Deaf Missions Malaysia was co-founded by siblings, Agnes and Mario Peter who have a natural passion for the Deaf community in 2006. The mission was founded to provide an avenue for the Deaf to be employed to enhance their livelihood. The mission has a vision to also be a service industry with Deaf impact, raising awareness about the Deaf community, its culture and language – Malaysian Sign Language (BIM).
- The Society of Interpreters for the Deaf in Selangor and the Federal Territory, more often known by its acronym S.I.D., is a registered non-profit and non-governmental voluntary organization founded in 1990. S.I.D. takes on the mission to serve as interpreters on the educational, judicial and other various fronts to enable the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community an opportunity of equal rights and access to information and communication. S.I.D. also provides a platform for interpreters to share and exchange ideas on issues relating to interpreting.
- Malaysia Federation of the Deaf (MFD) (Malaysian Federation of the Deaf) is an organization that was formed by the Deaf themselves on 8 December 1997 and now has 14 affiliates that collaborated with MFD at the national level. MFD has been given the mandate to represent the Deaf to voice out their rights and needs in Malaysia and provide various kinds of services to ensure that they can live equally with others.
- The YMCA of Kuala Lumpur (The Deaf Club) provides an avenue for Deaf youths to gather, share information, lean on a tightly knit and supportive team of Deaf leaders and initiate projects on causes that are close to their hearts and community. The Deaf Club meets every Third (3rd) Sunday of the month for talks, workshops, sports competitions and outings with their members. It also holds weekly Capoeira Martial Arts Training for its Members.
Explore Our Sources :
- The Star. (2020). Malaysian Sign Language can improve learning. Link.
- IMU News. (2018). IMU Pharmacy Student Receives Award for Volunteer Work with Disabled People. Link.
- McDonalds. (2021). Inspiring Stories. Link.
- MalaysiaKini. (2021). McDonald’s Malaysia announces winners of Anugerah Guru Inspirasi 2021. Link.
- SAYS. (2020). Tan Lee Bee: Meet The Interpreter Known For Her Animated Sign Language On National TV. Link.
- Free Malaysia Today. (2020). Why deafness is not a disability but a linguistic identity. Link.
- The Star. (2021). Deaf UM student earns PhD. Link.
- World of Buzz. (2021). From Zero To Hero: These Inspiring M’sian TikTok Creators Prove You Can #FindYourPurpose By Chasing Your Passion. Link.