Tuesday February 21, 2012
Tan started sign language for the deaf in Bahasa Malaysia and conducts regular classes
By PERCY D’CRUZ
MALACCA: Hailed as the ‘Father of the Deaf’, sturdy Tan Yap who turned 96 late last year is best described an evergreen, energetic senior citizen who is in a class of his own as far as volunteerism goes.
Tan, who initiated the sign language for the education of the deaf in Malaysia and subsequently the Bahasa Malaysia teaching module, is still conducting regular courses all over the country.
He was in Malacca recently to supervise a three-day course for 35 people at the St. Peter’s Church Resource Centre to generate and increase awareness for the local deaf community and dismissed notions of wanting to call it a day.
“No way, as long as God gives me the energy and I am able to move unaided, I will go on.
“I have learned to use Facebook and e-mail, my zest has been renewed many times over to still keep in touch and ‘spread the good news’ to the deaf since all of them are spread out nationwide.”
The current adviser to the Society of Interpreters for the deaf in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, Tan was instrumental in the establishment of schools for the deaf in several states and also introducing the sign language in the early 1970s.
Following optional retirement as a government hospital senior pharmacist in 1970, it was ‘all systems go’ for Tan in volunteer work upon starting the first school for the deaf in Johor Baru specially tailored for those average deaf pupils, dropouts and those missing formal educational opportunities.
For Tan, formal education in the study field for the deaf was principally garnered at the Gallaudet University in the United States as well as other relevant American institutions.
He also travelled worldwide to glean and pick up varied philosophies, modes and approaches utilised in the education for the deaf and related volunteers.
On the domestic front, Tan, a Christian by faith, also attended religious services for the deaf conducted at various denominational and Christian churches and other places of worship to observe the signs used in worship.
His pioneering work in the field of rehabilitating the deaf and those hard of hearing earned him acclaim and recognition at local, national and international levels. The most prestigious of the lot was the Edward Miner Gallaudet award in 1974 bestowed in Washington while becoming the first Asian recipient.
Tan vividly recalled how he got started in the education for the deaf which in the sixties held much objection and scepticism from certain quarters.
“I remember that in those years while working in Johor Baru there were unscrupulous people using the deaf to sell black market cinema tickets.
“The deaf did not know what they were getting into until the police arrested them. They were the unfortunate victims of society.”
Touched by their plight, Tan started a school for the deaf there at the invitation of the Ministry of Education.
He began conducting in-service language courses for teachers for the deaf from all over the country at the Kuala Lumpur Language Institute.
“Over the years, I was directly involved in the setting up of similar schools in Pasir Putih, Kuala Lumpur, Klang and Seremban before the Ministry came into the picture with establishments of still more such schools all over the country.
“In the seventies, 11 clubs and three societies for the deaf were set up all over the country where my expertise and assistance were made available.”
In recent years, he was extensively involved in conducting sign language courses and classes for public and private sector.
All said and done, the man firmly believes that keeping life simple as possible is the secret to a longer life and his fervent wish is to see the deaf in the country leading a normal life and be respected members of society.
Volunteerism, he added, is not a choice, but a responsibility.