Ending the silence by learning to sign
Parents take weekly classes to help them communicate with their deaf children
Every Friday morning, a dozen parents with hearingimpaired children gather to learn sign language at a workshop in Southwest China’s Guizhou province.
Xiong Wei, the lecturer who is deaf, uses a projector to demonstrate the different signs for dozens of words and sentences to the participants — mostly mothers — who imitate the hand gestures in groups.
Whenever a student wants to ask a question, they must write it on a piece of paper for Xiong.
Yuan Fengmei’s daughter lost the ability to hear at 4 months of age, due to complications associated with surgery for bronchiolitis — an inflammation of the smallest air passages in the lungs.
Doctors said the risk of this happening were “1 in 10,000”.
“After it happened, I stood by the railway tracks near my home holding my daughter in my arms, hoping the rumbling of the trains would make her cry,” Yuan said.
“She simply stared up at me with her big eyes, like nothing was going on.”
Having accepted her daughter would never hear again, Yuan tried her best to raise her as normal. But this proved to be no easy task.
“One time she wanted me to buy her some candy when we were out shopping together, but the doctors had specifically told me not to,” Yuan said.
“I couldn’t explain such a complicated concept to her, however, so she began to cry. The sales clerk said I was a miserly mother for not buying my daughter candy. I will never forget those words or the spiteful look the clerk shot at me.”
With the help of Xiong, Yuan gradually learned the basics of sign language. The first word she learned was “thank you”.
“My daughter can’t hear, but she can see,” Yuan said. “So she must learn to be polite and grateful, just like everyone else.”
Yuan puts what she has learned to use whenever she can. She uses the “thank you” gesture if her daughter gives her something or holds open a door.
“Now she is the same with me,” Yuan said. “Whenever someone gives her a seat on a bus, she says ‘thank you’ using the sign.”
Dan Qilin, dean of the Guiyang School for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb where the work- shops take place, describes sign language as “the mother tongue of the deaf ”.
“What parents need to do is to break down the wall,” he said. “Children will feel lonely if they can’t be understood by their parents.”
Xiong, the lecturer, said parents can learn to be their children’s ears.
“This is their only way to communicate, and it brings them closer,” he said.
Chen Na, a 28-year-old mother whose 4-year-old son was born deaf, has been studying at the workshop for three weeks.
“It gives me great consolation when my boy ‘talks’ to me using sign language all on his own,” she said.
Liang Shuang contributed to this story.
Parents with hearing-impaired children learn sign language at a workshop held at Guiyang School for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb in Guiyang, Guizhou province.