SO WHEN does a “disability” substantially limit a student’s major life activity?
For a young lady like Norsyehida binti Mohd Mersidi, it almost never does.
Norsyehida, or fondly known as Ida, is deaf.
Audiologically speaking, she has severe hearing loss in one ear and profound hearing loss in the other.
Ida became deaf when she was young after suffering from a bout of Meningitis.
She wears a hearing aid regularly to access sound and uses sign language as one of her ways of communication.
She has always been the only kid in her school with a hearing loss, first in primary school, then secondary school and up until her tertiary education in Jefri Bolkiah College of Engineering (MKJB) and Politeknik Brunei (PB).
Having hearing loss hasn’t slowed her down though. She is active in sports, has good friends and does well in school.
She is the first student with hearing loss to be accepted into MKJB where she had successfully completed a course in Diploma in Computer Studies and has recently graduated with an Advanced Diploma in Information Systems and Technology from PB.
She gets good grades, but has to work hard to do things that her friends who have typical hearing take for granted.
The stress and frustration can be overwhelming. With each new school year, she faces the challenges of unfamiliar teachers who probably have never worked with a student who is deaf or hard of hearing before, and classmates who have never had a peer with hearing loss.
In general, she has been lucky.
Her teachers are supportive and have gone above and beyond to accommodate her hearing loss.
But every year, new problems pop up and she has to learn to cope.
Because Ida is a student with a disability, she needed special provisions in order to successfully access and follow her programmes in school.
The Support Service for Students with Hearing Impairment, from the Special Education Unit under the Ministry of Education gave basic training on awareness of hearing impairment, Sign Language, as well as teaching strategies to some members of MKJB and PB.
Ida is an independent student who, despite having difficulties in understanding verbal instructions, is able to understand lectures through given notes, writings on the board and also from lip-reading her teachers and friends.
An intelligent young lady, she is able to understand information presented in different forms (ie through writing, signing, etc).
Her teachers use projectors so that she can easily follow what is being discussed during lectures so she is never left behind.
Ida has been very lucky to have friends who accepted her and were always eager to help her.
She never felt lonely and isolated.
Indeed one of the many challenges that she faced while being mainstreamed was finding friends who would truly understand her.
Her classmates accepted her and were friendly to her.
In order to break down communication barriers, PB even set up Politeknik Brunei Sign Language Club and Ida was one of the trainers.
She was offered all the opportunities available to her hearing peers; nothing was held back from her on account to her deafness.
She had every opportunity to excel academically.
Deafness is an invisible disability and because it is “hidden”, it can hinder a person’s efforts to go to school, work, socialise and more.
Although deafness creates a challenge for the person who has it, the reality of the disability can be difficult for others to recognise or acknowledge.
Today, Ida is proud to say that she is now an Advanced Diploma holder.
She is grateful for all the support she has received all these years from her family, teachers and friends.
She is proud of who she is and sees her deafness as her motivation to move further.