Diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss since birth, Muhammad Nur’Az’wan Hj Aziz spent his childhood years in frustration as he struggled to communicate and connect with the people around him.
As an adult, he now fights a different battle – equal opportunities for individuals who share his fate.
“Don’t make hearing impairment an excuse to not give us the same opportunities as others,” says the 31-year-old president of the National Hearing Impaired Association (OKP).
He adds that he wants to see more hearing impaired individuals succeed in their personal and professional lives. He firmly believes that in order to increase equality and fairness for hearing impaired individuals in the country there needs to be better opportunities in the job market.
His position in the association allows him to share information from conferences and events that he attends to ensure that members are not left behind in any development. He position also provides a platform to voice out concerns and take action.
According to Muhammad Nur’Az’wan, the lack or absence of employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities continue to persist.
Muhammad Nur’Az’wan is among the few lucky ones who have managed to find employment in a job market where individuals with disabilities are often seen at a disadvantage. He currently works as a clerk at the Employees Trust Fund (TAP).
“We are the same… (we) have feelings, emotions and moral values. Therefore, guide and lead us to a better future. Not just for us, but for future generations who may have the same disabilities like we do,” he says.
He says communication barriers can be removed once there is respect and trust.
Muhammad Nur’Az’wan gets along easily with others regardless of their social and academic background thanks to his upbringing which emphasised on education and the importance of learning sign language.
It was different when he was in school where his biggest challenge was to communicate properly, he said.
“I can’t hear well, my speech intelligibility was very poor. I pushed myself to learn sign language so I can communicate with my hearing impaired friends. I received a lot of help from the Special Education Unit at the Ministry of Education.
“My mother asked me to study and work hard for my future and my youngest brother learned sign language so that he can understand me,” he says.
He speaks fondly of his family and friends who have helped him come into terms with his condition.
To solve his communication problems, Muhammad Nur’Az’wan writes down what he wants to say. This was something he started doing during his schooling days and this practice continues to his work place.
Apart from writing things down, he also communicates with his colleagues using simple signing. He has taught his colleagues how to sign letters and numbers so that they can spell what they want to say to him.
“I do talk. I talk to them slowly so that they can hear what I am saying to them better than when I talk to them at my normal talking speed,” he says. The working environment has also helped him improve his communication skills in talking and signing.
“Very few people are aware of our situation. We encourage more people to learn sign language as it will allow us to communicate easily with others, especially when papers and handphones are out of reach.”
The Special Education Unit also conducts sign language classes every Saturday from 2 to 4 pm at their main office in Gadong.
“OKP also conducts classes specifically to help parents and siblings of OKP members so that they can communicate better at home and outside. We do this whenever there is a need or request from family members,” the TAP employee says.