Deputy dedicated to bringing sound to life of the hearing-impaired

China Daily Updated: 2024-05-06


Liu Lingli teaches hearing-impaired children in an outdoor class.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Liu Lingli has been a teacher for hearing-impaired children for 33 years, and thanks to her help and dedication, more than 20 of the over 80 students she has taught have received higher education.

Liu, 51, was born in Hengyang, Hunan province, in 1973. And her first interaction with people with disability was with one of her neighbors, surnamed Wang. Liu was a child then.

One day in the winter, when Liu was playing in her house, Wang used sign language to communicate with her. But Liu could not understand what she was trying to say. It was Wang's husband who told Liu that she wanted to make her a scarf.

"Even as a child, I was moved by her kind gesture, and thought it would be great if she could speak," Liu said. The incident left an indelible mark on Liu. At the age of 14, she decided to major in teaching hearing-impaired students, and enrolled in Nanjing Normal University of Special Education. After four years, she graduated with a secondary vocational degree and became a teacher at Hengyang Normal School of Special Education, and taught Chinese language to first graders.

She remembers clearly that there were 14 students in her class, from 6 to 12 years old, with several of them being intellectually challenged. "Some of the students had snot on their face; some even wet their pants. I was at a loss and thought about quitting," she said. She then thought about her neighbor Mrs Wang and the pain on her face when she could not make people understand what she was trying to say. That made her determined to pursue "special education".

Although she was only 18 at the time, she treated the students as her children, and practiced sign language in front of the mirror for one to two hours every day till she mastered it. With great care and patience, she also taught the students how to wash their face and clothes, and clip their nails, gradually becoming the "mother" of the students.

In 2005, at the age of 32, Liu gave birth to her own child. But the child, a boy, was diagnosed with congenital hearing impairment when he was seven months old. Concerned that she would need time to overcome the shock, Liu's colleagues requested her to take a break from teaching and take her son to Changsha, capital of Hunan province, for treatment. But she refused to do so, partly because such treatments are a long-drawn process.

Instead, she began teaching a new class, because she didn't want to leave the students alone, and decided to provide therapy for the child herself after work.

After becoming the mother of a child with hearing impairment, Liu said she could better understand the difficulty families with a special child face. "I felt that I was not doing enough for the children I teach. I should put more efforts to help them better integrate into society," she said.

"If the children receive early training and therapy, they could probably speak and thus have a better future." So she started auditory and aural rehabilitation training for her son after work. She self-taught herself the methods of imparting such training. And to help her students speak, she put her lips against their hand to let them feel the movement of the lips and the flow of the air, while allowing the students to put their hand around her neck and on her nose so they could feel the vibration of the vocal cords.

Apart from teaching her class together, she also has one-on-one sessions with each student for 20 minutes every day. As a result, she usually has a sore throat at the end of the day and her voice becomes hoarse.

Thanks to Liu's tireless efforts, her son could make some sound after several months of training, and her students showed great improvement. "Whenever they managed to say 'mom' or 'dad' for the first time, I felt it was the sweetest sound in the world," she said.

Studies show that children with hearing difficulties can learn to speak, even though the process is very difficult. But for that, treatment should start early, she said.

Deng Liang, who is 43 today, was one of Liu's first students. He was 10 years old when he went to the school but had not learned how to speak till then. With the help of Liu and hearing aid, he can now understand basic conversation and speak using simple words. And he has worked really hard to receive higher education with the help of the teachers.

After graduating from Tianjin University of Technology in 2007, Deng started working for a State-owned enterprise in Changsha. "Mrs Liu taught me to be kind, optimistic and work hard to build a better life, which has motivated me all these years," he said.

Deng's wife Jiang Yan, too, is one of Liu's former students. After Jiang was admitted to the special education school, she tightly held on her mother's clothes and did not want her to go. Liu held her up gently to calm her down, just like a mother, which Jiang remembers vividly.

In school, Jiang played with other students and learned how to speak. She said Liu would demonstrate more than 100 times how to speak just one syllable. After graduating from the school, she enrolled in a high school and was later admitted to the Beijing Union University. And after graduating from college, she became a teacher for special children.

Liu Hanxiang came to Liu Lingli's school when she was 8 years old. As she rarely tried to speak before joining the school, her vocal cords had become very stiff. So Liu Lingli started helping her practice speaking every day and after several years of efforts, Liu Hanxiang could communicate normally with others.

The teacher also encouraged her to learn dancing and she was enrolled in the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe. After performing during the celebrations to mark the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Panama in 2017, Liu Hanxiang sent a text message to her teacher and mentor thanking her for her efforts.

"Mrs Liu, my performance today was a great success. I want to thank you. Without you, I would not have become who I am today," the message read. Liu Lingli burst into tears when she read the message.

For her contributions to society, especially her work with the hearing-impaired, Liu Lingli was elected as a deputy to the National People's Congress last year, and fulfilled the heavy responsibility of speaking for people with disability.

There is still a lot to do to ensure disabled people can find suitable jobs or start a business. For example, the government could issue more diversified and flexible policies, Liu Lingli said. The media also needs to more prominently tell the stories of people with disability who have built a successful career, so as to motivate children with disability to improve their lives through learning.

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