Billy So Kim-wan, a 31-year-old sign language teacher and sign language interpreter, had a rebellious childhood. Both of his parents are deaf and he had frequent conflicts with them, especially with his mother, about money issues. He always felt that his parents were stingy and obsessed with money and says they would go to extremes to save money.
“It is very common for children of deaf parents to feel that their parents act in strange ways that are hard to understand, and are different from how others behave,” says So.
He recognises these conflicts are the result of a structural problem where it is hard for deaf people to be well-educated and get a job with a decent wage, so they are always concerned about making ends meet. So did not hide his disagreement with his parents’ attitude towards money when he was young and would do the opposite of what they wanted throughout his childhood to show it.
Given his own experiences, So now wants to help to solve the structural problems that exist in families like his. He has done a lot of advocacy work related to sign language interpretation in order to improve education prospects for deaf people.
James Li Chun-kwok, a 21-year-old student, is also the child of deaf parents.
Both of Li’s parents lost their ability to hear and speak in childhood, so Li used sign language to communicate with them from childhood. With the frequent use of sign language at home, the young James had few opportunities to speak, which resulted in delayed speech and difficulties in communicating with peers.
Li also had conflicts with his parents during his childhood. He felt very annoyed whenever they asked him for help with sign language interpretation, especially when he was revising for the public exams. He thought his parents relied upon him too heavily.
But then there was a turning point when Li’s father had to be urgently hospitalised and needed him for sign language interpretation. He discovered that although sign language interpretation could be very annoying, it is really important. He put himself into his father’s shoes and gradually understood that his parents’ requests were signs of trust rather than reliance.
It is commonplace for children to provide sign language interpretation for their deaf parents, says Phyllis Wong King-shui, an assistant professor of the Social Work Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“They don’t need parents to take care of them, in contrast, they always take the role of taking care of their parents,” says Wong. This dynamic can produce positive outcomes in some cases and negative ones in others, depending on individual circumstances, she adds.
In general, Wong says the needs of children with disabled parents are often overlooked and neglected. “Actually, there is a service gap for helping these kind of families. There are no tailor-made service programmes to help them,” she says. Disability services focus on helping disabled parents, but do not take the needs of their children into account.
Wong says Hong Kong’s current policies on disability lag behind other developed societies and suggests the government should devise policies that consider the needs of families with disabled members as a whole. For instance, there could be tutoring services and experiential activities for the children of disabled parents as many of them lack the resources to further develop their talents.
Hopefully, with more assistance and recognition of their needs, the children of disabled parents will enjoy better family relationships and experience fewer family conflicts.
Edited by Rammie Chui