Bridging The Communication Gap
Founded in 2016, SLCO Community Resources is a social enterprise from Hong Kong that puts deaf children in a mainstream setting to study alongside hearing students.
Their unique teaching approach uses both sign and oral language benefits the overall development of the children, while creating a strong sense of social inclusion.
“We are not shaping the minority to integrate into the majority, but engaging both the minority and the majority to actively learn from each other. Eventually, we hope to form an inclusive community where there is mutual understanding and the needs of different groups are properly addressed,” says Raymond Wong, SLCO’s Project Officer.
The social enterprise is an extension of the “Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education Programme” started by the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies (CSLDS) of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 2006, which draws on over a decade of the institution’s research and empirical evidence into practice to create a real impact on society.
“Due to misconceptions towards sign language, deaf children in Hong Kong were barred from sign language in education and were taught by oral language only. Our programme aims to alleviate the resulting communication barriers, academic failure and social isolation faced by deaf children by putting sign language back into their education, in addition to oral language,” says Raymond.
SLCO’s services span areas like early education, educational support and sign interpretation.
Their flagship offering – Fun with Sign and Speech – Early Sign Bilingual Development (FS2) Programme, is a pre-school parent-child playgroup that uses Hong Kong Sign Language and spoken Cantonese as mediums of instruction. Story-based parent-child activities are also provided to enhance early child development.
Sign language is beneficial to deaf children as it provides a fully accessible language that offers a foundation for further language development. Research has also shown that early sign language input supports the cognitive and emotional development of hearing children.
“We believe that everyone has the potential to become sign bilingual. The use of both sign language and oral language could improve the development of all individuals, as well as promote inclusiveness in society,” he says.
The innovativeness of SLCO’s work lies in the combination of their co-enrolment approach and the use both sign and oral language. This unique co-enrolment education model has been replicated in schools across Asia including Taiwan, Japan, Sri Lanka, Macau, Mainland China and most recently Singapore.
In particular, sign language is used to augment spoken communication when young hearing children have yet to develop speaking abilities or when deaf children cannot effectively communicate orally.
What’s more, the presence of deaf teachers and children in classes encourages interaction and learning, and effectively mitigates any existing prejudices.
“I think the most precious part of our work is that we can witness the development of our students from infancy to adolescence. We see deaf children who were very timid and reclusive becoming confident and outgoing in just a few years’ time within the SLCO-Programme in CUHK. We also see hearing children showing a great deal of empathy in caring of the needs of their deaf peers,” says Raymond.
Through their work, he hopes to educate people on the benefits of sign language and popularize it through learning programmes that engage both the deaf and hearing.
Its innovative approach and proven social impact helped the social enterprise clinch the Asia For Good Reader’s Choice Award 2017 after being shortlisted as one of the top teams in DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia 2017 (SVC Asia 2017) – a regional competition for social enterprises.
“Receiving the Asia for Good Readers’ Choice Award was a huge surprise. We have never thought of being able to rally enough votes to get to the top in such a competitive situation. Receiving this award gave us a real shot in the arm to move forward as we learnt that the local and even overseas communities are supportive of our work. We would like to thank to all our staff, parents and friends to help spreading the word.”
Raymond also noted that the competition has shed light on ‘industry standards’, which has motivated him to work harder.
“Seeing how the some of the best social entrepreneurs from all over Asia have propelled their social businesses has been very inspiring, which provides us opportunities for self-reflection. We are sometimes too focused in our own scope of work and neglect possibilities around us,” he says.
To date, the young start-up has enrolled 108 deaf and hearing children and their families in its FS2 programmes. Scaling up the social venture is a top priority for Raymond who is focusing on training more instructors, who he calls “the soul of their programmes” to increase SLCO Community Resources’ service capacity.
On his advice for would-be social entrepreneurs, Raymond had this to say: “Talk to more people about your ideas and if possible, let them experience a minimum viable product or service and see their reactions…You can never do everything on your own and know everything.”
“Running a social enterprise is all about bringing people together to do something that benefits society. The more people knows about it, the bigger the chance that your work can be successful.”