Celine, 31 years old. Art designer, painter, graduated from Shanghai University of Applied Technology, and hearing impaired.
According to the China Disabled Persons’ Federation website, China has approximately 21 million people with hearing impairment. To discover more about Shanghai’s deaf community, we talked to Celine.
Celine was born with the ability to hear, but when she was one year old, a fever damaged her hearing. “Sometimes I feel confused, I don’t know to which community I belong to; am I a deaf person, or I am just normal like others?”
When Celine’s family discovered her hearing impairment, they supported her completely. “They gave me the chance to have a specialized trainer who taught me all the techniques I needed to learn to pronounce words. After the training, my parents used to teach me how to pronounce words.”
Unfortunately, many other deaf children don’t receive this kind of acceptance and support from their families, and there are not many specialized education opportunities. Chinese Sign Language (CSL), currently used by deaf people in China, is not considered to be a language by the general public. “When I was a child I attended a deaf school, but we were not allowed to use Chinese Sign Language. We had to express ourselves using our mouths and repeating the words said by the teachers. But all these techniques were useless for students with severe deafness.”
According to different studies, the use of CSL in schools has not increased over the last years, partly due to the stigma associated with deafness and other disabilities.
Celine is among the first students to graduate from a bachelor’s degree specifically designed for people with hearing impairment in Shanghai. The education system for hearing impaired students is gradually improving, but there is still only one deaf-focused study: Visual Arts and Design at the Shanghai University of Applied Technology.
“I graduated last year and, besides dancing and designing, I am working as an interpreter for the Shanghai International Deaf Film Festival. I am also performing music in CSL. I would like to be a film director and produce more art.”
Celine has faced challenges to receive appropriate medical support. “Hospitals don’t provide interpreters or communication facilitators specialized for deaf people.” Poor communication between doctors and deaf patients troubles diagnosis and treatment, but some hospitals have started to take steps to improve this situation. For instance, the Shanghai East Hospital has been pushing its doctors, nurses, and social workers to learn CSL.
What can be done to improve the lives of hearing-impaired people? Celine believes deaf children need support to attend regular education, which at the moment rarely includes teaching programs for deaf students. But she also believes hearing-impaired people have an important role to play, “the Deaf community in China needs to be more active. More events need to be organized for deaf people, to make them feel part of the community, and cultural exchanges with deaf people from other countries. This will give a chance to deaf people to network and understand that in the end, we are not so different.”