Empowering the Hearing Impaired

No community should be left behind, and the Penang Deaf Association strives to improve the lives of the hearing impaired through education and fun!

The World Health Organization reports that 360 million people worldwide live with disabling hearing loss, and a staggering 32 million of these are children. In Malaysia, over 36,000 people are hearing impaired, with around 24,000 versed in Malaysian sign language.

Hearing loss has a variety of causes ranging from genetic factors, complications at birth, infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, drug use, exposure to excessive noise and ageing. Sadly, over 60% of childhood hearing loss is due to preventable causes.

Early identification and intervention through hearing aids, cochlear implants and other devices can benefit people with hearing loss. For those whose hearing loss cannot be stopped, captioning, sign language and other forms of educational and social support can help them lead a relatively normal and fulfilling life.

An Association for the Hearing Impaired

The Penang Deaf Association (PDA), otherwise known as the Persatuan Orang Pekak Pulau Pinang, was established in 1992 to assist, support and serve citizens of Penang who suffer from hearing loss and deafness. It also collaborates with other disability organisations especially in organising large events and gatherings.

The Penang Deaf Association promotes education through the publication of learning resources, such as books on Malaysian sign language.

The association’s roots go back to the 1980s in the form of the YMCA Deaf Club, founded by Razman Tan and his associates, with about 100 members. PDA is currently the only registered institute in Penang that caters solely to the deaf. Today they have over 900 registered members who they care for, with at least half being actively participating members.

Tan reminisces about his school days and how he dreamed of starting an organisation for the deaf because he lamented that he was often lonely and without friends in school. Back then there was little to no support for those who could not hear and speak, and so Tan suffered alone in silence.

For Tan, the YMCA Deaf Club was a wonderful start – an opportunity to meet and bond with those who could relate to and understand one another. After a number of years, they decided to grow beyond a club and joined forces with the Society of Hearing Impaired Malaysia (SHIMA), started by Mohamad Sazali in KL. SHIMA was officially recognised by the Malaysian government as a charitable organisation.

Together with five of his close associates, Tan founded SHIMA Penang in 1992. For several years they did not have a permanent place to base themselves, until 1996 when they obtained their base of operations at Kompleks Masyarakat Penyayang. It was also later that year that SHIMA Penang transformed itself into the Penang Deaf Association that we know today.

With the support of the Malaysia Federation of the Deaf and the Department of Social Welfare, a number of projects were started to enhance communication and community engagement among the hearing impaired in Penang. By establishing Puskom – a portmanteau of “pusat komunikasi”, the term for communication centre in Malay – as a communication hub for the disabled, PDA was able to secure a new premise at 35, Lorong Bertam in George Town. There is currently no centre yet in Seberang Perai.

A Crucial Centre for Learning

PDA reports that around 2,000 Penangites suffer from hearing loss, which means there are still many who may not have access to the services they need to assist them with their disability. PDA takes care of their many members in a number of ways: they provide support for youths with hearing impairment and ensure that they receive education and speech therapy. These are provided through PDA’s partner schools and medical centres.

PDA also promotes education through the publication of learning resources, such as books and videos on Malaysian sign language. These resources are not just aimed at the hearing impaired, but also at those who wish to learn how to communicate or interact with the deaf through sign language.

In addition to printing material on Malaysian sign language, PDA also holds sign language classes for beginners and is open to the general public. The price is RM150 for five two-hourly sessions of interactive sign language classes with the experts; an official certificate is awarded upon completion.

PDA also provides training, including sewing and baking, and assists in finding interviews and job placements with local companies and factories for their mature members. Another vital service that often goes unnoticed is the translation and interpretation service that PDA provides for the public or for the hearing impaired who may not be able to speak for themselves, such as in hospital cases.

Bridging Communities Through Charity

PDA hosts a variety of annual events to raise funds as well as awareness. Every year, the association holds a charity bazaar in Komtar called the Jumbo Sale. This is for charitable institutes to display and sell their wares and receive donations from the public. The public is encouraged to donate clothing and suitable goods to support the bazaar; most of the proceeds go towards assisting those in need.

The Jumbo Sale bazaar is a marvelous opportunity for the disabled to serve and set their skills to good use, either in producing unique products that attract customers or showing off their salesmanship to secure transactions like any vendor. Popular products usually include clothing, homemade pastries and cookies, as well as artistic crafts and books and miscellaneous goodies.

Aside from the marketplace, PDA also organises an annual charity fun walk and run to encourage healthy lifestyles while bringing their message of unity and equality to Penang. This massive charity event used to be called Walk For Sight & Sound and was done in conjunction with the local blind associations of Penang.

For the past few years, PDA has had its own charity fun walk. The Colourful Run’s 5.6km route takes participants on a jaunty circuit around town, giving runners a taste of Penang’s heritage and culture. Last year, over a thousand runners took to the streets of George Town on the morning of August 27.

Penang Deaf Association's charity fun walk, The Colourful Run.

The Colourful Run has a special category for those with hearing disabilities – being deaf or disabled doesn’t stop one from being physically fit and active. The run is also a wonderful time for families and friends to get together for some casual exercise and bonding, and is one of Penang’s more successful charity events.

What’s in Store for 2018

PDA has strong hopes for the years ahead. Their next major upcoming project is their sixth Jumbo Sale at Komtar, which is tentatively scheduled for May 1. The public is encouraged to contribute through donations of clothing and non-perishable goods to the PDA.

The Colourful Run is also scheduled for mid-August, with great hope for a successful third year, especially with the decent response and growing popularity of charitable outdoor activities in Penang.

PDA will also hold large gatherings during special occasions, such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali. These will usually involve food and festivities. Tan also shares that in the next few years, PDA plans to enhance their training school and programmes to bolster their reading, writing and counting classes, as well as their classes that teach the hearing impaired to use computers and smartphones.

Another aim is to help the deaf achieve self-sustainability and financial independence through small business training. Through suitable ventures, such as opening up car wash centres or grocery shops, the hearing impaired can find more ways to earn a living for themselves and be a part of the community.

Tan and the PDA hope to see a decline in those suffering from permanent hearing loss through education and improved healthcare, and ultimately for all the hearing impaired of Penang and Malaysia to be well taken care of. For their efforts, they have been awarded the Most Active NGO sigil by the local authorities.

If you wish to help or support the Penang Deaf Association, you can call them at +604 226 0160 or +604 229 6421, email them at pgdeafass@yahoo.com, or visit their headquarters at 35, Lorong Bertam.

Samuel Shee is an avid cyclist and traveller, with the occasional photography to go with it. Currently in the software industry, he enjoys helping charity and sports events around Penang.

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