Sturdy and sharp nonagenarian, Tan Yap is not slowing down despite his age. Believing in spreading goodwill, Tan, who celebrated his 97th birthday yesterday, wants to educate senior citizens, who have lost their hearing due to old age, by giving them free sign language lessons.
“I have conducted courses for deaf children in the past. “However, I noticed that many senior citizens, who have become deaf due to old age, have found no way to communicate with their families. “No one understands or reaches out to them and they become lonely. Some even become mentally ill and choose to commit suicide,” he said here yesterday.
Dubbed the Father of the Deaf, Tan is a sign language expert with 47 years of experience and was instrumental in the establishment of schools for the deaf in several states. He also introduced the sign language to educate the deaf in Malaysia since the early 1970s. Tan, who is currently an adviser to the Society of Interpreters for the Deaf in Selangor and Federal Territory, has pioneered work in the field of rehabilitating the deaf and those hard of hearing, earning him local, national and international acclaim.
Prestigious among these include the Edward Miner Gallaudet award in 1974, with Tan becoming the first Asian recipient, and the Tokoh Pendidikan Cacat award. Tan, a former government hospital senior pharmacist, said it was normal for many elderly people, especially those aged 70 and above, to experinece hearing problems. “Deafness due to old age is not the end of the world. People who have it can still break down the communication barriers with sign language,” he said.
The lessons, he added, were open to senior citizens and their caregivers to help them communicate. It would be taught in English, Chinese and Malay. Initiated by the Malacca branch of the Presbyterian Church in Malaysia (GPM), Tan said they were gathering names of those who were interested in joining the lessons, which would commence early next month.
“The basic sign language lesson only takes 10 hours,” he said. Tan added that 14 other facilitators would assist him with the lessons.