Archive for April, 2008

Deaf + Uneducated + Poor

Being uneducated is a whammy. Being uneducated and deaf is a double whammy. Now, being POOR, UNEDUCATED and DEAF? WOW! In Tagalog, we say to that person, “inabot na sya ng sobrang kamalasan sa buhay” (has reached too much misfortune in life). A person who has never attended any formal education is most likely a poor person. Who else cannot have schooling except someone who cannot afford to study?

I opted not to mention the name of the deaf and the place where it happened in order to protect him and of course the family (not his) who’s supposed to defend him because they understand his situation. However, this issue hits us right in our own sense of compassion.

During our “house visits” stint just this April, the group visited the ancestral home of the father of one of the deaf. We were warmly greeted by the family, relatives and even next-door neighbors of the deaf. Too warm, in fact because we felt like we were campaigning for an elective post. We all shook hands with everyone we’ve met. Almost everybody knew we were coming. And that includes the local deafies.

A couple of them arrived. One was proudly posting his newly polished red motorbike and hurriedly left after seeing us. The other one was a scrawny, average looking, probably in late twenties guy, with bulging eyes and sporting a lighted cigarette who greeted us by his homegrown signs. We were told that he was some kind of a poor town clown or a town’s fool. Now, this is very degrading and humiliating for someone who’s only “misfortune” was unable to hear. He was a “kababata” (childhood friend) of my deaf student and was never schooled due to family hardships.

What really pissed me off is when people who are supposed to protect him because they have a deaf relative (our student), started to throw insults at him with their non-verbal gestures even right in front of us. To top off the embarrassment, a videoke microphone was handed over him and motioned him to sing! I cannot swallow such a reprehensible display of shame. Once he started to “sing”, a spontaneous laughter was heard from the audience. Loud, inaudible, often off-key and painful sounds echoed the whole place.

I said to myself that I have to do something about it. So, I showed my discontent to the owner of the videoke machine. Well, he felt that the humiliation was already enough so he got the mic and motioned the deaf to just sit and stay. Then, he offered him a strong beer for free which he eagerly accepted. I believe that’s the only reason why he came, to get a free beer. I then, tried to make some sense out of him by signing to him a few gestures that I know of. He understood. I told him not to do that again.

Not every day I see guys like him. I’m surrounded mostly by deaf who are very much nurtured even pampered by their families. But it is on these days where I find that life’s imperfectness are often created not by nature but by people like us. :-(

Comic strip designed by MCCID students and posted in Manila BulletinAfter doing an article about Deaf Laugh, I might as well talk about Deaf Humor. What makes a deaf person laugh so heartily? How can we deliver a good punchline to deaf people in order for them to “buy” our jokes?

Always remember that a deaf person is a visual person. He/she cannot understand long winded dialogues and dramatic exchanges of verbal tones. You cannot easily pull them into watching tearjerkers and heart-wrenching scenes unless you would patiently volunteer to interpret for them. And since, they are visual, they are more of an “action” type of group. So, to choose from between Arnold’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Mandy’s A Walk to Remember, Arnold wins hands down. Of course there are some exceptions like Titanic or Ghost which is very graphic or even the famous Children of a Lesser God by Marlee Matlin, an international deaf icon.

The deaf is leaning more towards the “Leslie Nielsen” type of humor than “Billie Crystal” or “Robin Williams” type. I can even categorize them as the “Mr. Bean” type where explanation is not necessary. Rowan Atkinson is hugely popular among deaf people especially here in the Philippines. His brand of comedy strikes right through the deaf’s funny bone.

Which leads us to an assessment, deaf humor is basically a slapstick type of humor. Watching two persons clowning around draws out crispy (malutong na tawa) laugh from them or Jim Carrey falling off a cliff in “Me, Myself and Irene” than say David Schwimmer throwing punchlines to Jennifer Aniston in “Friends”. The latter would be too boring for them.

So the next time you treat a Deaf to a moviehouse and have a grand time, make sure you select a “girl-stumbling-after-stepping-into-banana-peel” genre. They would surely appreciate it. :-)

Sir Jeff  (left) pose together with deaf group outside Lorenzo's living room (middle standing)Now what is a deaf laugh? A laugh without sound? Is it different from a regular laugh? Is it even louder than a hearing laugh?

Well, basically, there is no difference. A laugh, chuckle, giggle, chortle, cackle that you hear can also be heard from deaf people. Now, what made it different?

When we were in Alcala, Pangasinan during our house visits, all seven of us (including Jefferson Cortez, my hearing companion)  were sitting at the living room of Lorenzo’s rest house. Although exhausted from a long trip, we still managed to joke around and took turns in teasing everybody. One thing about being with the deaf, they enjoy life even without sounds.

While everybody was laughing after every pauses, Lorenzo’s lolo (a 75-year old near-deaf grandfather) who was seated beside me made a meaty comment. He said,

“The deaf were having a great time, aren’t they? I just wish I understand what they are laughing about so I can also laugh with them.”

I too was laughing after I saw the exchanges of teasing in sign language. Then it dawned on me. When us hearing people laugh, there must be a story or item of comedy preceding it. But for them, a brief pause is enough to elicit loud laughs in unison. For any hearing person who is outside the laughing circle but within the hearing range, he will surely be surprised at a sudden burst of laughter without listening to a joke prior to it.

I told Jeff about it. He too was amused. But both of us are used to it. The only dilemma is if there is a hearing non-signing person around, we are compelled to reverse interpret or summarize the storytelling first before he/she can join the laughing session.

So a laugh sound is the same whether it’s from a hearing or a deaf. It’s just a matter of in-between pauses before a united laugh can be heard. :-) 

Deaf students and Sir Jeff sitting on a beach with MCCID shaped in sandHello to everyone who might have a chance to read my blog. You know writing oftentimes is very therapeutic. I need to have a therapy for free. So I write a blog. :-)

Last April 17 – 20, around six of us left from Manila to the North. I was accompanied by four deaf persons, three ladies (Marife, Cindelyn and Maricel) and one gentleman (Ace) who happens to be the husband of one of the ladies (Maricel). This is also the first time that I am travelling with a hearing person, Jefferson. Most of the time, I am the only hearing person. Although Sir Jeff can hear, he is technically a deaf person because his first language is sign language. His parents are both deaf so he is practically living in a deaf world. He is still in his late teens but he is very skilled in almost every aspects and a great companion. We are very blessed to have him as one of the faculty of MCCID. I’m glad that he was with me because I was able to rest my “interpreting hands”. Although, I cannot prevent him from leaving, I pray that he stays in MCCID longer. :-)

First stop was in Alcala, Pangasinan where we met the father of Marife Bandong. Lorenzo Baraoil only joined us at Marife’s house because his place is quite near hers. After a few short chats and a bag of freshly-picked-from-tree carabao mangoes later, we headed to Lorenzo’s house. A 15-minute tricycle away and we arrived to Lorenzo’s house where we were greeted by a warm Ilocano style by his Auntie and the rest of the relatives. Lorenzo’s parents were both working in Dubai. 

We then slept in one of his Lola’s rest houses a few meters away. The place was very elegant and not a typical provincial home. It was fully furnished and every fixtures are terno from cabinets to drawers and cupboards. 

The following day, we left for Bauang, La Union to meet with another deaf, Jerome Marzan. We were also warmly greeted by his family. Jerome was with Ericson, another deaf whom we will visit the following day. It was a pleasant surprise to experience a natural provincial ambiance with farms and fruit-bearing trees abound. Also, there were no running water from the faucet so we have to pump water from underground called “poso” and bring pales to the comfort room. This is good for a change.

The next day, we had a grand time soaking ourselves wet on the beach of La Union which is almost a kilometer away from Jerome’s house. I didn’t say swimming because none of us swam. Everybody waited for bigger waves to pass by us and threw us near the shore. It was truly an exciting and funny one especially when Marife swallowed a cupful of sand and saltwater. We all bursted with laughter when she walked limpy towards the shore gesturing that she can’t breath well due to saltwater in her throat. I don’t know why we chuckled to her instead of pitying her. Jerome was the culprit. He just let her being succumbed by raging waves. He defended himself saying that it’s Marife’s fault. She always opens her mouth. That was a blast.

Later that day we prepared for a travel to Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur. It was another exciting experience because I had never been to that place. It was Ericson’s turn to guide us. We were again warmly greeted by his mother who was very sweet and made us very comfortable. Actually, it was not their house. It was the house of his mother’s younger sister. The place was fabulous. It had a very huge garden, sort of like a resort, complete with a big cottage and some landscaping. We again had a taste of a famous Ilocano hospitality.

Sea foods, seeweeds and other delicacies
The next day, we were very eager to go back to the beach. We were thinking that we just go there, swim, then come back to rest. But we were all very much surprised when a grand preparation waited for us. Almost all of Ericson’s relatives were there. The food was overflowing. Seafood and seaweeds dominate the buffet. We were treated like royalty by Ericson’s parents. They really took care of us. Ilocos Sur beach was good but nothing compared to the breathtaking waves of La Union, surfer’s haven. Anyway, we equally enjoyed the beach. We made long dips or “babad” from 11:00 am, pause for lunch and continued until 5:00 pm. You could just imagine our skins all burned and not just suntanned.

In the evening, after a hearty meal, we all headed home. Jerome and Lorenzo stayed for another day at Ericson’s house. It was truly an exciting event. I wish we could do it again, but I don’t think it will happen again for our next batch of “House Visits”.

Why do we have House Visits?

Cebu Pacific Logo with Discrimination of Disability
Guys, this one is really for the books. I can also categorize this situation under the “Only in the Philippines” tag and presumably a classic case of sheer ignorance.

Three days ago, after I attended the meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs (This is another story.), a nice lady from Autism Society of the Philippines (Sorry, her name slipped my mind.) mentioned about the incident involving deaf persons and was printed in Philippine Daily Inquirer. Although I heard about it from the deaf group, I still want to know more. After a few searches, I got hold of the Opinion Article of Mr. Raul Pangalangan posted only last April 11.

He explained about Cebu Pacific Airlines refusing to board ten deaf passengers on a flight to the world renowned Boracay Island. All ten were already seated inside the plane, when the crew told them to disembark, citing their policy that blind and deaf passengers had to be properly accompanied in order to be treated as regular passengers. If unaccompanied, “he/she may be accepted for carriage provided he/she can take care of himself/herself on the ground and in-flight.

The irony was that four members of the group were visiting Americans who had flown all the way to the Philippines on their own, without a hitch, and had demonstrably met the internationally stringent standards of other airlines. They had come to attend the grand centennial of the Philippine School for the Deaf, the oldest such school in the Philippines and Asia. They hadn’t been apprised of the policy in advance. Worst of all, though they were promised a full refund, what they received was short by Php590 (USD13), the agent’s service fee apparently. (In the end, only two of the passengers were allowed to board.)

Now, where in heaven’s vast expanse did they ever thought of this ridiculous policy? Granted that a deaf person belongs to the disabled sector. However, this smacks against the very basic human rights (disabled or not) of freedom to travel which is guaranteed by our constitution.

Let me enumerate why this is an absolutely absurd policy and their situation merits exclusion.

  1. Ignorance of disability. A deaf person is not a dumb person. They do not ALWAYS need a companion to interpret for them. They can read instructions and understand stewardess’ demonstration on basic safety rules and what to do in case of emergency. In other words, THEY CAN TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. In the first place, why were they allowed to board a plane all the way from USA if they cannot comprehend common directions?
  2. Equal treatment is not cost-free. Additional companion entails costs. I remember Philippine Airlines give 50% discounts ONLY to caregivers of disabled passenger but not all airline companies. Republic Act 7277 otherwise known as “Magna Carta for the Disabled Persons” only accords 20% transport discount for PWD on land travels although the new Republic Act 9442 covers all means of travel. Victory Liner Bus Company never provide discounts to PWDs. Why do you hassle yourself by paying for an escort if you can survive on your own?
  3. This policy humiliates the PWD and their right for independent living. Many senior citizens travel alone. Technology made a blind person navigate through the horrible streets of Calcutta, India only with an aid of his global positioning system (GPS) device. It has been known worldwide that deaf people are well-traveled group. Why can’t they travel unconstrained?
  4. Preferential treatments at times lead to a subtle form of discrimination. Wheelchaired people are first to board the plane but are always last to disembark. If they are often seated in front and don’t impede human traffic, why are they last to get off?  How often do we see especially marked “Disabled Seats” in Light Rail Transit (LRT) occupied by other non-disabled people?
  5. Right of inclusion. We want disabled people to be productive citizens in our country. We don’t want them to depend on dole outs and welfare from anyone. Traveling is one way of showing them that they are “one of us”. I remember an insulting suggestion made by a popular Metro Manila government official saying that, “Wheelchaired people must not roam around the streets because it’s dangerous for them. They should always stay at home where they are safe.” Now this comment is way too much. They are not prisoners or are not under house-arrest. Why can’t they travel?

I have always been an admirer of Cebu Pacific because they are true to their commitment of delivering low fare rates and always on time motto. But this is one area where Persons With Disabilities can cry foul and in direct violation of their human dignity.

It’s a pity because Deaf communities especially from affluent countries travel a lot. I’ve met many of them come to the Philippines from as far as UK, the Netherlands and Switzerland. They have the resources and often travel by groups. Our country is a great destination. I have interpreted more than a handful of weddings involving a foreigner and a Filipina deaf. Our deaf people use the basic American Sign Language as a form of communication, an internationally accepted language. We might even attract prospective visitors and increase our tourism revenue if we can tap this potential.

But with this dreadful and discriminating restriction, it is almost like saying, “Hey, we don’t want people like you! You have no room in our country.

This blog post also appear in Withnews:Internet News for the Disabled and the Poor.

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