Existing Challenges for Myanmar’s Deaf Community
On September 19th, Seng Ja presented on the situation of the deaf community in Myanmar (Burma) in the offices of World Vision International in Washington, DC. Seng Ja serves as the Project Officer of the Deaf Resource Centre (DRC) run by the Myanmar Deaf Community Development Association (MDCDA). Over 40 representatives from nonprofit organizations, including USICD, attended this discussion.
Seng opened with her personal story of losing her hearing when she was seven months old due to high fever. Seng struggled to pursue an education, but faced additional barriers including abuse and lack of resources and training at the boarding school for the deaf that she attended. Seng described abuse at the school stating, “the teachers were brutal; they pulled my hair and banged my head on the floor many times.” At the age of 15, Seng’s family was no longer able to afford her schooling fees but Seng was determined to still receive an education. Believing that the disability community in Myanmar was improving while the deaf community was left behind, Seng and her deaf friends established the DRC in 2001. A U.S. agency representative who visited the DRC helped Seng and her colleagues learn American Sign Language.
Seng highlighted that The Basic Disability Survey 2008/2009 in Myanmar showed a 2.32 percentage of disability prevalence in Myanmar. She emphasized that many people in Myanmar with disabilities are invisible and deprived of services and benefits from the state. One example of this deprivation, she noted, is seen in the lack of proper education for deaf students. There are currently three deaf schools in Myanmar. Two of these schools can be found in the South, one is government supported but Seng reported that in neither school do teachers have the necessary skills in sign language. The third school is located in the North and is supported by an organization from Australia. The MDCDA had been working with 3 different development agencies for the educational development of deaf people. This collaboration would be ending soon, causing Seng to share her concern for the future of education for the deaf community in the country.
Seng observed that girls who are deaf and/ or hard-of-hearing, particularly from the northern part of Myanmar, are not given access to schools. She described that people living with disabilities in Myanmar are extremely disadvantaged and face numerous stigmas, discrimination and logistical challenges, which joined with the chronic poverty, ethnic conflict, and military presence has created challenges in implementing the rights of the CRPD which the country ratified in December 2011.
During the open discussion session, Seng concluded that Myanmar has many challenges to confront in achieving rights for deaf people within the country. She was dismayed that Myanmar’s new 2008 Constitution did not mention any rights specific to people who are deaf and/or hard-of-hearing. DRC is pushing the government for a revision to include the rights of this community. Seng’s goals for the future of the deaf community in Myanmar are to have a deaf school in Northern Myanmar available for young students to learn proper sign language and communication skills, to have the news broadcast include sign language interpretation, and to encourage the government to revise the constitution to include the rights of the deaf community.