Roaring engines, screaming drills and clanking metal are common sounds in a mechanic's workshop yet they go unheard by one young student as he goes about repairing cars.

Deafness has not dampened Steven Mulvaney's love for cars and he has developed a special sensitivity for various types of engine vibrations which he uses to diagnose what may be wrong with a vehicle during work practice.

And, if he is ever in doubt, he asks a colleague to lend him an ear - just in case.

Ever since he was a boy Mr Mulvaney has always been fascinated by cars and anything with wheels and an engine. He would spend his weekends in his uncle's garage watching him change parts and build cars.

Determined to pursue a career in the field, the 22-year-old is now in his third year at the Malta College of Arts Science and Technology studying to be a motor vehicle technician.

As part of his course he needed to spend two days a week carrying out work practice and, with the help of the Employment and Training Corporation and the National Commission Persons with Disability, he was posted at Muscat Motors car maintenance garage.

Last month commission chairman Joe Camilleri expressed concern that not enough jobs were being made available for people with disabilities. Not only were disabled people finding it difficult to land a job, but the jobs they were eventually given were normally well below the level of what they were capable of doing, he said.

"It was very important for me to have been given this opportunity to actually work despite being deaf. People with disabilities should be open to such chances especially because their disability does not make them less capable," Mr Mulvaney said, speaking through his sign language interpreter Rita Vella.

"Initially, when I started working, communicating with colleagues was a bit of a problem. Slowly it got easier. I read their lips, some learnt basic signs and they manage to understand me when I mouth words," the young man said.

Mr Mulvaney always felt "normal" and never thought his disability should hold him back. He wears a hearing aid that gives him 25 per cent hearing which allows him to realise there is a noise in the room but he cannot make out what it is or where it is originating from. Once, he recalled, he was working on a car when he heard a distant noise and slid out from under the vehicle thinking the building alarm had gone off.

But when he saw his colleagues working calmly, and the car's lights flashing, he realised it was the car alarm.

Mr Mulvaney was born deaf as he suffers from a hereditary condition. Both his parents are deaf. His father lost his sense of hearing when he was five years old following a traffic accident while his mother was born deaf.

Sometime after he was born, his mother realised he too was deaf when she dropped a pan and he did not budge.

His parents brought him up with a determination to help him live a normal life. He went to primary and secondary school where he was given extra assistance by a teacher for the deaf. Apart from Maltese sign language he also learnt the international one to ensure he could communicate beyond the island's shores.

After sitting for his O level exams he decided to enter Mcast to pursue his passion for cars. But he realised that without a teacher for the deaf he would need some form of help so occasionally he asks his interpreter to join him in class.

When she is not there he lip-reads the lecturer but things get difficult when the lecturer speaks while turning to face the white board. In such cases he asks a friend in class to repeat what was said.

Things get more complicated during practical classes as he has to divide his attention between focusing on his work while keeping his eyes on his lecturer's lips.

"But friends have always helped me out. Sometimes I feel bad that I have to disturb them and ask them to repeat but they are glad to help out," he smiled.

Clearly he never had problems making friends and some actually learnt basic sign language to better communicate with him.

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