Break­ing the sound bar­rier

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend|disability - NYO ME

THINGYAN. It’s the fes­tive cel­e­bra­tion that is sup­posed to rep­re­sent all the stresses and sins of the pre­vi­ous year be­ing washed away with pu­ri­fy­ing wa­ter. For Bo Bo Kyaing, who lost his hear­ing to an in­fec­tion re­sult­ing from bucket wa­ter en­ter­ing his ears when he was 15, the health warn­ing came too late.

The loss of hear­ing made school es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult. Bo Bo Kyaing said that he would strug­gle, but fail to un­der­stand his teach­ers, do­ing par­tic­u­larly badly in science sub­jects – chem­istry and physics. He would copy work from his friend’s note­book and then go back over the ma­te­rial later to try and un­der­stand each les­son. There was, of course, no sup­port for his needs at his pub­lic high school. It took two years for him to pass the ma­tric­u­la­tion exam.

Thank­fully for Bo Bo Kyaing, his years where he was able to hear have left him the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with speech. He whis­pers, though, be­cause he can­not hear and ad­just the tone of his voice. Mostly, he uses sign lan­guage. Sign lan­guage was not un­fa­mil­iar to him – both of his par­ents lost their hear­ing in their in­fancy, and so com­mu­ni­cate with signs. While Bo Bo Kyaing is deaf like his par­ents, his sib­lings are not af­flicted.

“I am very sad,” Bo Bo Kyaing’s mother said of his con­di­tion. “No mat­ter whether my hus­band and I are deaf, I don’t want my child to be.”

Bo Bo Kyaing ex­plained how he was dis­crim­i­nated against by oth­ers, told that he was use­less to so­ci­ety and a bur­den to oth­ers. There have been very dif­fi­cult times, he said of the last twenty years. Even his for­mer close friends aban­doned him, per­haps not want­ing the stigma of his dis­abil­ity to af­fect their so­cial stand­ing.

Be­ing a Deaf me­dia man To com­pound the young man’s un­hap­pi­ness, he found he was not go­ing to be able to at­tend univer­sity to study eco­nom­ics. Go­ing into writ­ing, it quickly be­came ap­par­ent that his dis­abil­ity was mak­ing him un­hirable. Bo Bo Kyaing would suf­fer four long, hu­mil­i­at­ing years of un­em­ploy­ment af­ter univer­sity.

See­ing him­self on the out­side, Bo Bo Kyaing was go­ing to have to go at it alone. One day, he found a Thai news chan­nel that in­cluded a hear­ing im­pair­ment aid, some­one in a bub­ble on the screen who would trans­late the speak­ing into sign lan­guage. This in­spired Bo Bo Kyaing to want to do the same in Myan­mar. He ap­proached DVB and pitched his idea, and they re­sponded warmly.

Bo Bo Kyaing would be­come the sign lan­guage in­ter­preter for DVB in 2012. This new ad­di­tion quickly spread to MRTV and MNTV. While this early vic­tory was im­por­tant, that re­mains the ex­tent of TV ac­ces­si­bil­ity. The num­ber of pro­fes­sion­als in vis­ual me­dia work­ing for deaf in­clu­sion is low com­pared to Asian av­er­ages. Bo Bo Kyaing says he trans­lates be­tween six and eight sto­ries a day, but wants to in­tro­duce in­ter­na­tional news. For that, hu­man re­sources are lack­ing. If pos­si­ble, Bo Bo Kyaing would like to move into video jour­nal­ism.

Be­ing cou­pled with an able bride Bo Bo Kyaing is hap­pily mar­ried, but the road to union was not an easy one. His wife, Khin Hnin Si, is from Sa­gaing re­gion, and ac­tu­ally first saw Bo Bo Kyaing on the tele­vi­sion. When they met, she was shocked to find he him­self was hear­ing im­paired. It did not stop her from wish­ing to be with him, but Khin Hnin Si’s fam­ily were very ad­verse to her be­ing with a dis­abled man. They were fur­ther dis­turbed when they found out about his par­ents. Khin Hnin Si would even­tu­ally leave for Yan­gon to be with Bo Bo Kyaing, and the cou­ple lived with his par­ents.

They have been mar­ried for three years now, and have a healthy young boy. Tak­ing care of a scream­ing baby in the night presents an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge, but the cou­ple has worked out a sys­tem be­tween them­selves to share some of the labour. The fam­i­lies are all there for the baby with “eyes al­ways on him”, as Khin Hnin Si puts it. Even Khin Hnin Si’s fam­ily have soft­ened over time, and when Bo Bo Kyaing vis­its Sh­webo in Sa­gaing, lo­cal deaf peo­ple come to see him, just to meet the first me­dia per­son who rep­re­sents their com­mu­nity.

Bo Bo Kyaing says he fears for his son, who will have deaf fam­ily mem­bers, and hopes he will not be sub­jected to the same bul­ly­ing and iso­la­tion. “I have to ex­plain to him not to al­low him­self to suf­fer when so­ci­ety makes an im­pact on him. I hope that times are chang­ing and that there will be more ac­cep­tance of dis­abil­ity in the fu­ture,” Bo Bo Kyaing says with hope as his son runs and plays around his feet.

Photo: Nyo Me

Bo Bo Kyaing's fam­ily.

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