More than mere hand movements and facial expressions, sign language is not only an important communication tool for the hearing-impaired. It also reflects an individual’s personality and can create a connection to those living in a world devoid of sound.

A sign language interpreter at the Special Education Unit, Aziz Assan, believes that learning to sign can help others understand the message a hearing-impaired individual is trying to convey, as well as the individual’s needs and personality. After starting to learn sign language, it only gets easier, he explained.

“Don’t be afraid to learn sign language from scratch because it is fun. Once you know signing, it will open your eyes and you can see the difference between normal and special needs life,” he said.

Special Education Unit’s sign language interpreter, Aziz Assan (R), signs during the opening ceremony for the ‘Better Hearing, Better Living’ art exhibition held at The Mall, Gadong. Photo/Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Aziz said when he interprets sign language it is important for him to get the main ideas of what the hearing-impaired individuals are trying to say. He would then need to structure it into proper sentences so that there is no miscommunication and that the message is delivered effectively.

In fact, it was through sign language that the interpreter got close to Muhammad Nur’Az’wan Hj Aziz who was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss at birth. Now the president of the National Hearing-Impaired Association (OKP), Az’wan leverages on his position in the OKP to campaign for equal opportunities for the hearing-impaired.

“Az’wan and I, we have known each other for five years but [have only gotten] closer two years ago when he was appointed as the president of OKP. We can communicate even though our signing is minimal. How you communicate is how you interact and become friends with each other,” he said. He added that usually it will take him around three months to get close to his students.

Just as in other languages, signing has its own variations based on culture and the individual.

“In Brunei for example, we have the signing for ambuyat (a starchy dish derived from the sago palm trees) but when I’m with Az’wan he does it differently…but I still know that he means ambuyat. This is where the personality part comes in. For me to understand the way he signs, I need to know his personality,” he said.

There are 45 sign language teachers and around 200 hearing impaired students nationwide under the Special Education Unit. 

In order to highlight the importance of sign language, OKP will be taking part in the ‘Better Hearing, Better Living’ art exhibition and charity bazaar currently taking place at The Mall, Gadong. 

The exhibition, which is organised by Hear Better Services Company, features artwork created by 10 hearing-impaired students. The paintings are available for purchase — ranging from $40 to $120 — with funds going towards purchasing hearing aids for other children who also suffer from hearing loss. 

Since 2013, the charity project has sponsored 38 students with hearing aids. 

The exhibition kicked off yesterday and will run until January 28. Visitors who want to learn sign language can take a class tomorrow (Friday, January 26) at 2pm.