Deaf charity seeks signs of change

Local | Chan Ho-him 7 Nov 2016

Sign language should be provided in live broadcasts and online news videos so the deaf can be better informed, a concern group said.

The government claims there are only 3,900 people who know sign language in Hong Kong, but local charity Silence said that is an underestimate, putting the number at more than 12,000.

"The government's unfavorable stance toward sign language heavily discourages the deaf to follow what's happening in society," Silence's center head Willy Kwong Ho-yin told The Standard.

Many hearing-impaired people find it difficult to comprehend many social events and would even miss government policies, he said. A deaf person who was underpaid at work only learned about the statutory minimum wage last year, four years after it came into effect.

The Standard found none of the government's live broadcasts and online news clips between September and October provided sign language interpretation. More than nine out of 10 of government announcements of public interest do not have sign language.

Most free-to-air broadcasters also do not provide sign language interpretation, with RTHK being the only station with interpretation provided in its morning news program This Morning.

Christine Chu Chi-yan, 34, a deaf person who uses sign language as her first language, said she sometimes cannot understand the subtitles provided in news clips because the grammar of written language is different from sign language. "I feel constantly distanced and lagging behind from the rest of society," Chu said. Whatsapp groups among the deaf community help her to better follow instant news, she added.

A task force under the Communications Authority is reviewing a requirement for free TV to provide sign language for news programs, which is expected to completed by next November. Silence launched the online Silence TV in January, producing three-minute weekly summary news clips with sign language. Some other deaf associations are also planning their own sign language online networks in the coming months.

There are 155,200 hearing impaired people in Hong Kong but only 54 registered sign language interpreters, according to government statistics. Kwong suggested the government set aside a fund in its new budget to provide more incentive for people to learn sign language as well as work as full-time interpreters.

Stephanie Ma Fan-yin, 27, a full- time interpreter, said sign language interpretation is in large demand but few people choose to join. She said she sometimes has to work 12 hours a day.

Matters big and small require sign language, including interpretation for Legislative Council live broadcasts, for deaf parents at parent-teacher conferences and for deaf people in hospital. Ma said Silence TV received a positive response from the deaf community, urging the government to make a move. "The community should put the deaf as a priority."

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