By Solaire Hauser
HONG KONG – “Wai?“
That’s how people in Hong Kong answer the phone. But for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, this simple task can prove to be a challenge.
Insufficient communication skills, lack of technical knowledge or a lower level of education are only some of the factors that play a part in determining whether a hearing impaired person will be able to find a job or not.
“Blindness will separate people from the things. But deafness will separate people from people,” says Clara Lau, deputy director of the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf. This non-governmental organization has been founded for the purpose of helping deaf or partially deaf people to find a place in society and improve their interactions with the hearing world.
It all started about 50 years ago with a group of people who felt that their needs and demands were not properly met by society. After two years, they managed to get funding from the Social Welfare Department and that’s when the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf officially came into existence.
Today, the organization comprises of a number of volunteers and professionals, who have made it their mission to continue the work of their organization’s founders. One of the ways in which they do that is through their Employment Service. It was started in order to tackle the problem of unemployment among the hearing impaired population.
This is not only a local phenomenon, but appears in many countries around the world. While it is difficult to find official numbers for Hong Kong, a look at the statistics of other countries helps to get an overview of the current situation: In Canada, around 38% of deaf people are unemployed, while the amounts in Indonesia or Nepal went up to 60 and 85% in 2008.
The Hong Kong Society for the Deaf tries to work against this development by providing job search assistance, sign language interpreters or IT and English classes to its members. According to Clara Lau, the main barrier in the working environment is posed by communication.
“Most of them work in settings that can communicate with simple instructions, for example catering or cleaning,” she says.
Right now, the Employment Service mainly focuses on finding those types of jobs, but for the future, Lau hopes that technology will help to broaden the field of available employment. “We believe that hearing impaired people are just like you and me,” she says. And developments like the use of computers as a tool of communication could be “one step forward” to minimizing the gap between hearing impaired workers and their colleagues.