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The Challenges of Being Deaf in Burma

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Download For the 2.3% of Burma’s population who have a disability, it is a tough life.

There are only six government schools for the disabled in the entire country – the rest are private or NGO-run.

And it’s nearly impossible to find a job.

But there is one man who has overcome the negative attitudes to be a role model for those who are deaf in Burma.

He works as a sign language presenter for the Democratic Voice of Burma and together with the few schools for deaf children; they are trying to raise awareness of disabilities in Burma.

Ye Khaung reports from Rangoon.

The Mary Chapman School in Rangoon teaches over 350 students. Founded in 1920 by British woman Mary Chapman, it is one of only two schools for the deaf in Burma.

The school teaches students from primary level to 18.

“As a school in Burma, they are taught in Burmese sign language here. But they try to learn international sign on their own by reading books.”

The students here are moving their hands as they communicate using the sign language.

They get a good education but their future remains uncertain.

Only 15% of people with a disability are in some form of employment.

“They feel sad that even if they pass the matriculation exam, other people think that it’s good for nothing.”

Official figures say that 1.2 million people in Burma have a disability but many believe the number is much higher.

They are an extremely disadvantaged group.

And are often the victims of abuse because they are seen as easy targets.

Margrad Kyaw Mya is the headmaster of the Mary Chapman School.

“There are many student who are smarter than other ordinary kids. They just have troublespeaking as they can’t hear. I wish my students are equally treated like other kids, like other human beings.”

The school also gives vocational training such as sewing and cooking.

But there is so much that the students miss out on.

Their access to news is minimal, as they can’t hear the broadcasts – and literacy rates among the deaf community are low.

But now for the first time broadcast news has become available to the deaf community... as the Democratic Voice of Burma has employed the first sign language presenter.

“She said, she understands half of the sign language on TV. Because they have a lack of vocabulary - they are just in high school. They are very glad for having sign language on tv and they are very interested to watch it.”

The language presenter for DVB is Bo Bo Kyaing.

He lost his hearing in an accident during a Water Festival when he was 15.

As a son of deaf parents Bo Bo has known sign language since he was young.

But there is no standardized curriculum for sign language. In the past people have tried to publish Sign Language books but were blocked by the government.

“Burmese sign language is not complete yet because the government interfered. They don’t allow certain words they don’t like to be put into sign language, so they removed it. And they put in words they like.”

As there is no common Burmese sign language students can have trouble communicating with each other.

“There are just a few Burmese signs in sign language. They are mixed with American signs, Australian and Thai signs. That’s why when they get out from school; they have some problems to communicate with senior students outside.”

Eden is the first private day care center for children who have physical and mental disabilities in Rangoon.

It not only provides care and therapy but it also teaches how to care for children with disabilities.

Htar Oat is the founder of Eden.

“We just want to share our knowledge and experiences as much as we can”

They also raise awareness to change people’s attitudes to disabilities – but it is challenging.

“People’s understanding on disabilities is very negative. When people see or meet disabled, their feeling and understanding is negative. It makes our work difficult.”

Despite the nascent reform process in the country, there is still little being done to help the disabled.

The Shwe Min Thar foundation is calling for laws to better protect and support the disabled.

But so far the debate hasn’t reached parliament.

Until the rights of the disabled are recognized, it’s people like Bo Bo who continue to raise awareness and change attitudes.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 February 2013 16:35 )  

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