At Rotary, we are committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect, allowing everyone’s voice to be heard, and providing equitable opportunities for fellowship, service and leadership.

We believe that all people hold visible and invisible qualities that inherently make them unique.   In this month issue, we are continuing our “Why DEI Matters ?” Series and focusing on those who have the invisible disability and what the challenges they are facing.


International Day of Sign Languages 23 September 2023
(An international day currently observed by the United Nations)

International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL) is celebrated annually to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are more than 70 million deaf people worldwide with 300 different sign languages used collectively.

Sign Language & the Deaf

We exclusively talked to the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf (HKATD) to learn more about the deaf community in the city and some common misunderstandings. While the locals tend to refer to any levels of hearing impairment (HI) as deaf, and deaf and mute people as a collective group, such generations can end up upsetting a deaf person. Only those who essentially have to communicate in sign language shall be referred to as deaf.

Hearing impairment does NOT equal deaf. Deaf does NOT equal mute.

Education for Deaf Children in Hong Kong

1 in 1000

infants born or turned (by fever) deaf across town

  (*Source: HKATD)

With one in every 1000 newborns born or turned deaf in their early childhood, only 10% of them were hereditarily born to a deaf parent such that they could natively acquire sign language from birth. Despite highly available early detection upon much improved health care services over recent years, non-deaf parents rarely agree to send their child to schools for the deaf, primarily in the hope of raising them in traditional schooling to keep them competitive and “normally” socialized. Many HI kids do not start learning sign language until the age of 6 or 7, missing the best period of its acquisition in early childhood.

Advancements in hearing aid technology somehow has shaped a common perception that less schools for HI are needed. Since the number of deaf schools have, as HKATD pointed out, drastically decreased for the past decades, today most HI children are sent to traditional schools wearing hearing aids in accordance with an “inclusive” policy set to encourage diversity and understanding.

Not enough schools for the deaf. Limited resources in traditional schools. Very few pursue tertiary education. HI care is expensive.

Half of the HI pupils attending traditional schools, however, tend to lag behind in their learning progress overtime as they receive shockingly inadequate language help with just a handful of teachers professionally trained to help HI pupils and only one hour of specially arranged language therapy provided per week on average. Poor academic performance and a language barrier to communicating with non-HI classmates could cause long-term mental health issues. Very few deaf people receive tertiary education and pursue a professional career.

Immense pressure could drive their caretakers distressed, as deaf and other HI children very often come with autism, ADHD or SEN, in addition to expensive hearing aids to buy and operate and their frequent need for time and cost demanding medical consultations and language therapy.

Lack of Social Inclusion

As compared to other physical disabilities, HI and deaf are not that visually observable at first sight, more often than not having the group left hanging in between the disabled and the non-disabled. Disneyland denies deaf people disability access. HI people are always expected to provide physically demanding help at a given occasion for the physically challenged. There often comes a sense of their needs, typically deemed secondary, being largely ignored, particularly amid learning and the use of sign language widely downplayed in government units, entertainments, businesses and the public.

On-the-spot resolutions to conflict are hardly achieved. Disadvantages in employment.


It is acknowledged that translation services are more available and the deaf community is more empowered than ever to live life. Problems remain when it comes to conflict, such as at a car crash, where there is always a lull in the communication which disadvantages the deaf especially in attempting on-the-spot resolutions.

Deaf employment is predominantly seen only in relatively low-skilled sectors, incl. security, garages, coffee shops and dish washing. Employers often value deaf people less by offering a lower pay, being less likely to promote them and requiring them to work night shifts, as opposed to treating them as equals of other non-deaf colleagues.

Attempts to be inclusive of deaf immigrants are even harder. As one can relate to the same set of problems a non-deaf ethnic minority group could face in the city, such as speaking a different language, deaf immigrants also use a different sign language unintelligible to the local deaf communities.

How we can be more inclusive

The good news is, more and more people and organizations are trying. A program called “The Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education” launched by the Chinese University of Hong Kong provides enhancement of inclusive environment, incl. more translators and HI pupils per class from kindergartens to secondary schools. More get to pursue associate degrees and even further. The US Consulate General provides its staff with days of intensive training on how to be inclusive, both personally and professionally, after employing a deaf person to be a janitor.

The deaf CAN pursue dreams to be artists, teachers, lawyers, and more, if we all work together to give them the EQUITY they need.

 Needs accessed individually. Embrace differences.

HKATD also suggested the authorities enhance the city’s accessible facilities for the deaf, such as better signage design at public places, and provide more individualized support according to separately assessed needs, such as offering different hearing aids for various levels of hearing loss.

On a more individual level, we can start by learning sign language. If you have not had the chance to learn it, adjust your attitude and readiness since you could encounter a deaf or HI person any moment. Communicate in written languages with your phone and even pen. Be willing to look for resources immediately available around. When you host a dinner or an event with deaf people, split them into smaller groups in a round table setting for their ease to see each other.

Only by respecting everyone, regardless of disability of any kind or not, as a true individual with their own dreams, worth, priorities, and differences observed, we set our society, as well as ourselves, to be truly inclusive.

Only if we set ourselves to be INCLUSIVE.

[Source: United Nations, World Federation of the Deaf, Hong Kong Association of the Deaf, Chinese University of Hong Kong]

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