Dorianne and Keith Callus are sitting at their kitchen table when they turn around in a synchronised, sudden move – their son Jamie just tripped on a toy.
Some people laugh at us without realising we are following what they say
The deaf couple do not hear their son’s thump but feel the vibration of his fall and run to his assistance.
The two-year-old is soon playing and singing loudly and his mother tells him not to shout as his facial expressions reveal he has upped his volume.
Ms Callus, 33, and her 37-year-old husband were born profoundly deaf after, in both cases, their mothers experienced medical problems during pregnancy.
Given their condition is not genetic, they were not concerned that their son would be deaf. Even if he were, “such things are in God’s hands,” Mr Callus says with the help of an interpreter.
“We can do anything except hear and our main obstacle is the communication barrier,” his wife says as she signals in Maltese sign language for her husband to follow. Unlike her husband she can speak fluently, except for not being able to pronounce a few sounds, and she attributes this to the support her parents gave her as a child.
“Whatever I learnt at school I would go through again at home with my parents… My mother and I would sit down, I’d feel her throat as she spoke and imitate the sound,” she says as she recalls how her father used to translate the Ladybird children’s books into Maltese until she learnt English.
Her parents realised she was deaf when she was eight months old because, unlike her cousin who was the same age, she never turned round when they called out to her.
Mr Callus’s diagnosis took longer. His parents realised he was deaf when he was almost two. One day he was asleep and his mother dropped a pot and he remained fast asleep.
The couple, who have been married for eight years, lead a normal life in their Birkirkara home appropriately called Silent Love. Becoming parents was a natural step. Aware of their spoken language limitations, they started sending Jamie to playschool early so he would be exposed to speech.
At home his mother speaks to him in signs and words and his father signs to him. Like many children his first word was ‘mama’ which he also signed.
“He loves to sing. When he’s in his car seat and I’m driving I feel him kick the seat so that I put on music. I look in the rear-view mirror and see him sing,” his father smiles.
Their daily routine is like that of most families – Ms Callus takes Jamie to school before heading off to work at the bank. She then juggles her time between her home and also teaches sign language and does interpreting for the television news.
Mr Callus is a gardener. When he returns from work he helps look after Jamie and spends time in the garage doing woodwork or working on cars. On Friday evenings the family go to the Deaf Club which is a place where deaf people meet in a setting they can communicate easily.
Since they cannot hear their baby cry they bought a special portable gadget fromthe UK that vibrates when Jamie cries in another room. At night the gadget has a part which they place under their pillow and vibrates when he cries out to them.
When someone rings their doorbell bright red bulbs, present in every room, start flashing.
Waking up in the morning also takes some creative thinking – their alarm clock is like a small pod they place under their pillow which vibrates instead of ringing.
But then there are some things that they as parents have no control over.
They believe it is essential that the Government recognises Maltese sign language as an official language to encourage its use. Apart from that, there are no male interpreters, which makes it uncomfortable when a deaf man needs an interpreter in a medical setting.
“We need more interpreters so deaf people will have a better life and education, better jobs with better salaries and a better quality of life.
“Many deaf people have a low income due to poor education,” Ms Callus says. Making video phones financially accessible could also help improve communication for those deaf people who can only sign.
Mr Callus also speaks about the need to educate people about the deaf. “Some people laugh at as without realising we are following what they say. They see us speak unclearly and assume there is something mentally wrong with us.
“When I started my new job, initially my colleagues were worried about working with me. But now they have realised that I am just like them – it’s just that I can’t hear,” he says.
Over 34,600 people in Malta have some form of disability, according to preliminary figures from the 2011 Census, and for many the main challenge they face is lack of access.
Apart from the physical lack of access there is also a lack of access to information and communication, according to the chairman of the National Commission for People With a Disability Joseph Camilleri and KNPD director Anne-Marie Callus.
“However, the greatest barrier and greatest challenges are posed by negative attitudes and lack of awareness of how discrimination can be created even if unintentionally. We need to ensure that the level and quality of services and benefits available are adequate,” they said.
While disabled people are empowering themselves and finding their way into the mainstream of Maltese society, there is still a lot to do in terms of public attitude.
“There is still too much emphasis either on pitying disabling people, or on seeing them as super heroes if they manage to achieve even ordinary things, like studying, working, having a family,” they said.
The Deaf People Association wants Government to…
• Ensure children are diagnosed early and tested before leaving hospital.
• Train hospital staff in basic sign language.
• Improve the quality of hearing aid provided to deaf people.
• Recognise Maltese sign language as an official language.
• Address the shortage of interpreters.
The Sunday Times will be telling the stories of people with various disabilities who are overcoming societal barriers. These monthly articles are not aimed at depicting these people as super heroes but at helping society understand the needs and concerns of the 34,600 disabled people in Malta who are often hindered by lack of accessibility and understanding. Anyone who has a story to share can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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