Born to deaf parents, Cindy Chan Kai-yee’s mother tongue is sign language, even though she herself can hear.
From a young age, Chan has lived between the deaf and hearing worlds, signing with her parents at home and later learning Cantonese from relatives and at school.
Speaking in a direct manner reflective of how she used sign language at home, she was often mistaken for being rude or blunt at school. Taken in combination with her poor Cantonese pronunciation and grammar skills, the result was a sense of isolation from her classmates.
As the eldest child, Chan
also found herself caught up in her parents’ conflicts, describing her childhood as “rough” and “wounded.”
“As my parents’ [communication] abilities are limited, it affected their emotions. They often fought, which led to cracks in their marriage,” she said.
“Aside from being the translator for my parents, I also had to counsel them for their emotional issues.”
Those childhood experiences drove Chan to establish CODA Hong Kong in 2013, a charity to unite and empower the children of deaf adults who had lived through the same experience.
Having watched her own parents’ struggles, Chan will hire a professional counsellor or social worker in 2022 to lead a psychosocial and emotional support programme for 100 deaf parents.
Supported by Operation Santa Claus, a joint fundraising campaign organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, the charity will provide group and individual counselling services as well as training workshops to help parents identify and overcome obstacles related to parenting.
Chan said deaf parents can at times feel helpless in parenting situations given the challenges they already face interacting with the hearing world.
“They are often very helpless, insecure, and have low self-esteem … When they get married and start a family, that’s another challenge for them,” she said.
“When the parents come to us, we often notice that they are very depressed. They are facing the pressure of not knowing how to be parents, how best to communicate with and teach their children.”
Young children, meanwhile, can at times be thrust into a translator role despite not even having fully learned how to talk or sign themselves.
Cheung Yin-ping, who suffers from hearing loss, said the charity’s counselling services helped her deal with her daughter’s homework difficulties as well as her own worries about the eight-year-old’s future.
“Before coming here, she always lost her temper and we would argue with each other. She would be throwing things,” she said through a sign-language interpreter.
“I always talk to the counsellor [provided by CODA]. They comforted me and told me not to worry too much.”
Chan said she hopes hiring a full-time social worker or counsellor next year will help the group even better cater to the needs of deaf parents.
“As we do not have a social worker, we only have some volunteers who come to hold guest talks on Saturdays. They cannot follow up [on individual cases],” she said.
“We wish to build up a support network for deaf parents so they can support each other as companions.”