Finding voices through the stigma

By Nur Sarah Shamsudin

Expressing our feelings and thoughts word by word could be a beautiful thing as if the flow of the sentences that we utter will go smoothly just as what we want it to be.

But, have we ever wondered it could be a bit handful for some to struggle with what we see as a norm almost every day in their life; when they sometimes would be wrongly accused of acting unfriendly, therefore cast away, or even questioned on their right to receive the convenience and special treatment, that they deserved just because they are different?

That was what happened to Siti Aira Sharina where her indifference left her feeling dejected having to endure the mistreatment over her request as a customer to get food through the drive-thru.

As part of the deaf community, Aira would simply write or point out the menu that she wants just like her previous visit to KFC before, until this time around when a different staff rejected her request upon her visit, and asked her to go inside the restaurant instead.

“I just left the drive-thru without getting in the restaurant (I held my hunger)” signed Aira in her video, sharing her frustration and disappointment that caused an uproar among the public online causing KFC to issue an apology and to take action accordingly.

“I just want KFC to improve their services and to upgrade the screen at the drive-thru to make it easier for the disabled community,” Aira mentioned at the end of the video to explain further her intention to not prolong the issue any longer.

An event like this should not happen, but it is happening more frequent than we ever thought. This could be only a small fraction that we heard compared to what this special community have to endure in their daily life. There have been so few changes to address the challenges that people with disabilities (OKU) have to face that benefit them.

Learning sign language can help us to understand and make communication easier for more insightful connections within the community. However, it is not easy for one to find or search for where they can learn sign languages. Therefore, the introduction of #SIGNON is much needed for anyone interested to partake in learning sign languages!

#SIGNON is a small non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded by Mohd Armi bin Rusli with the aim to teach sign language to those who are interested. He once said that in Malaysia, there are not so many options or places to learn sign language for normal people compared to the disabled community who are already being exposed since early age in special needs school, various institutions and organisations that catered for their needs to properly communicate and interact among others.

Although Mohd Amri himself is part of the deaf community, he can speak well as to the fact that he managed to receive education in normal school despite his disability due to insufficient information about the availability of special education schools during his time.

He only managed to learn sign language and properly mastered it when encountered with a friend who exposed him to the community and sign language. Later it became a point in his life that shaped his own passion to educate the public and provide his best effort and services for the public.

#SIGNON language provided classes though they mainly focused on two states – Selangor and Kuala Lumpur at the moment. It takes only 7 sessions where 2 hours are needed to complete one session until those who registered for the classes managed to reach advanced level.

Like many others, #SIGNON also shifted to online communication which also includes their classes to be conducted online to make it easier for anyone to participate. As there are many of those who are eager to learn and join the sign language classes, participants are needed to register early for the available section. As we welcome the new year, there are still some spots left for people to join before the next session that will be made available in January 2022.

#SIGNON continues to lead in their effort not only in helping the community in their own way but also providing services and help that have proven to be helpful in some ways.

In one event, they managed to help the staff in Tapah’s vaccination centre (PPV) to communicate with two deaf people about their medical history needed for the doctors’ review. Another event took place in Hospital Temerloh where the doctor managed to reach out to the organisation to further help them communicate with one deaf patient.

They have even made collaboration with many organisations and institutions that include Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN), Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Universiti Malaya (UM), PETRONAS, Geomatika College, and St. John Ambulance.

#SIGNON makes learning sign languages fun through videos from their own YouTube account that teaches some short and basic sign languages that include greetings and songs like Malaysia’s national anthem, “Negaraku”.

They even made an initiative like the making of #SIGNONCAMPAIGN to provide awareness among the disabled community regarding the spread of COVID-19 and encouraging them to stay at home using sign languages through videos aired by RTM TV1 on 15 April 2020.

#SIGNON has their own social media account to continuously spread awareness about the importance of sign language. It is much easier as people get to reach out to them just by joining their official Telegram group for more information and update about their activities.

Sign language not only helped people to communicate easily, but it also helped us to understand their feelings and struggle as if we are in their shoes. We become more appreciative of the beauty of learning sign languages through additional effort needed as sign languages depend mostly on the expressions made, body language and movement as it is more expressive than spoken words.

Learning new things is never too late, thus joining the community with good intention could be a stepping stone to make an impactful change for a better future.***

(This article is written as part of feature writing exercise for Corporate Writing class)

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