Hearing from the Heart

Students wear masquerade masks designed by
Arty Party's Sofia Cole
The recently concluded 11th Johor Baru Arts Festival (JBAF) from Sept 5 to Oct 4 was filled with an exciting calendar of daily shows and performances that included special items dedicated to the disabled in our community.  

Dubbed, Hearing from the Heart, the event comprised an exhibition, a Heritage Bazaar held at Dataran Bandaraya and classes to learn the Malaysian Sign Language every Saturday and Sunday.  It culminated with a weekend celebration of fun activities for the International Week of the Deaf on Sept 27 & 28 with members of the Society of the Deaf, Johor (SDJO) and Society of Parents & Guardians of Deaf Children (PESIBA).

Hearing impaired children taking part in a colouring contest
“Our theme this year is “Strengthening Human Diversity” and this was the first time the SDJO held our International Week of the Deaf celebration in conjunction with the JBAF,” said organizing chairman of the event who is also SDJO Secretary, Chan Kok Sheng, through a sign language interpreter from Johor Family Development Foundation, Mohd Fadhrul Zharef Mohd Fuzi.  

About 100 SDJO members aged between ages 6 to 65 were at Dataran Bandaraya to enjoy a day of fun with traditional games like coconut blowing, colouring contests and other activities for the family.  Souvenirs and handmade art and crafts by My Deaf Products and Arty Party were on sale.

Visitors shop for gifts and souvenirs from My Deaf Products
“SDJO was established as a Non-Governmental Organization in 1976 to take care of the welfare of the deaf community and to support their rights,” said SDJO President, Mohd Yazid Bain.  He said SDJO has some 1,025 members registered from various districts in Johor and they too have the right to benefit with equal opportunities as others who live and work here.  In the past, hearing impaired people only had jobs as farmers and laborers, without any opportunity to further their studies even though they are capable of achieving more.  But this is changing now.

Society for the Deaf Johor members playing a
challenging game of coconut bowling
“We have advocated the use of the Malaysian Sign Language since 2000 and when it was passed as an Act in 2008, it paved the way for more positive changes in the deaf community” said Mohd Yazid.  “If the deaf were properly trained, they can work anywhere as long as they can adapt to the environment and if their colleagues graciously accommodated their needs,” he added.

Mohd Yazid said that as more SDJO members were being trained in the use of the Malaysian Sign Language, they were also given motivational talks to encourage them to move out of their comfort zone into working environments among hearing people.  It is very encouraging that many public and private corporations in Johor are receptive to employing people with hearing disabilities.  Some SDJO members have found suitable employment in the public library, city landscape department, hypermarkets and various departments in hotels.

MP for JB and patron of JBAF, Tan Sri Dato' Shahrir
Abdul Samad, ready to flag-off a game of human chess
PESIBA President, Mohd Shafie Daud, agreed that it was good to encourage interaction between deaf and hearing people as this exposure will help them overcome communication barriers.  He said this International Week of the Deaf celebration with the JBAF was a healthy opportunity for members to join in fun activities, bond with others and enjoy being part of the community.  By interacting with others, the deaf will be encouraged because they can share unity and fellowship in a community with people of different age, gender, race and culture. 

Haziq Haikal Azlee designs spectacle frames
In recent years, the JBAF has collaborated with a JB social enterprise, Arty Party to hold art and craft fairs with children and youths and this year, Arty Party invited a guest from the UK to join in the fun.  Simon Murray, a costumier on a project with Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Nusajaya, has one of the biggest private collections of spectacles which he loans and made for films and television.  Some of his handmade glasses have been used for blockbuster movies like Batman, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter.

Murray, fondly known as Mr Specs, is also big on fund-raising and has a charity project to get every celebrity he has worked with to design a pair of spectacle frames that best describe themselves for Breast Cancer Research and Fight for Sight charities in the UK.  For the JBAF Hearing from the Heart event, Murray encouraged young SDJO members to take part in a colouring contest and challenged them to design spectacle frames.  Students who took part in the contest were duly rewarded with prizes sponsored by Murray.

Thien Yung Seng designs spectacle frames
Visitors were impressed by the collection of original movie props and collectibles in the Aud Toys stall that nicely complimented the Simon Murray Eyewear stall with Murray’s display of handcrafted spectacles that were used in popular Pinewood Studios blockbuster movies.  

These included glasses Murray designed for Sean Connery in his role as father of Indiana Jones and for Daniel Radcliffe in his role as Harry Potter.  Among the visitors who took the opportunity to wear Murray’s spectacles for a photo and made a donation to charity was guest-of-honour, Member of Parliament for JB and patron of JB Arts Festival, Tan Sri Dato’ Shahrir Abdul Samad.
To learn the Malaysian Sign Language and for more info on the Society of the Deaf Johor, email: sdjohor@yahoo.com or visit Facebook: Persatuan Orang Pekak Johor or Deaf Johor. SDJO is located at 2-C Jalan Yahya Awal, 80100 Johor Baru (opposite JB Convent).

Tan Sri Dato' Shahrir [Right] in rimless spectacles worn by Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,
and Mohd Yazid Bain [Centre] in spectacles worn by Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter.  With them is Simon Murray.
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 10 Oct 2014

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