xi's moments
Home | Education

College grads ready to help hard of hearing

Sign language lessons enable lawyers to assist special groups

By Tan Yingzi and Deng Rui in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2024-07-03 08:42

Students attend a sign language class at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing. CHINA DAILY

Thirty-eight college students who are proficient in both law and sign language recently completed their undergraduate studies in Chongqing. As new forces in China's efforts to improve social justice and human rights protection, these rare graduates are poised to become lawyers who can provide public legal services for the deaf and hard of hearing.

"These interdisciplinary and applied legal talent could offer public legal services with their 'speaking hands' for the special group," said Zhang Wei, professor at the Administrative Law School of the Southwest University of Political Science and Law, and head teacher of the university's Experimental Class of Outstanding Public Legal Service Talent, where the graduates studied.

"Moreover, their services will also be expanded to cover other vulnerable groups such as low-income people, migrant workers, the elderly and adolescents."

The professor said the future looks bright for the new graduates.

"All students' employment prospects seem very promising," Zhang said, adding that some of the students have chosen to pursue further studies, while others are already making moves to become lawyers or work as legal advisers in related enterprises or institutions.

So far, 12 have entered the Chongqing Legal Assistance Sign Language Interpreter Talent Pool for Hearing Impaired People. "Due to their lack of legal knowledge caused by communication barriers, people with hearing impairments may run into difficulties beyond what ordinary people can imagine, even in dealing with common legal issues such as recouping debts or getting a divorce," Zhang said.

The professor explained Chinese litigation law stipulates that legal cases involving any hard-of-hearing people must include sign language interpreters. But the interpreters, who are rarely law professionals, often struggle to interpret legal provisions and terminologies.

According to the China Disabled Persons' Federation, last year, there were about 27.8 million people with hearing impairments in China. They make up the largest group of disabled people in the nation, accounting for 32.7 percent of the nation's disabled.

Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, the country has attached great importance to the development of public legal services.

In a pair of guidelines, titled Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of the Public Legal Service System and the Outline for the Implementation of the Construction of A Rule of Law Society (2020-25), the central government boosted requirements for people offering legal services to special groups.

To address major legal obstacles faced by the hearing impaired, Zhang's university came up with a plan to set up the nation's first experimental legal services talent class in November 2020. The plan was selected as one of the Top 10 Events in China's Legal Protection for Persons with Disabilities in 2020. The class officially began in January 2021.

"I want to be a lawyer like Tang Shuai, who uses sign language to defend hearing-impaired clients," said Luo Maoyue, 22, who graduated from the class last month.

She said four years ago, a lecture on the legal dilemmas of hard-of-hearing people given by Tang — a Chongqing native who became China's first "sign language lawyer" early in 2012 — ignited her interest and empathy for the group. So she signed up for the experimental class as soon as she saw its recruitment notice.

"It's really hard work running the class," said Zhang, adding that the development of integrating law and sign language in the country is in its infancy. "With no faculty, textbooks or standards, we started entirely from scratch."

The university organized over 20 experts from across the country to compile legal sign language materials, and they created the first textbook in the domain containing 890 core legal sign language terms. The team also uploaded 20 related courses on the online education platform Massive Open Online Courses.

To tackle the teacher shortage problem, the school not only asked its full-time instructors to give lessons in the class, but also hired nine off-campus mentors from related sectors such as judicial organs and law firms. They offered the class comprehensive lessons on basic sign language, legal sign language and practical training in public legal services.

The mentors include Tang Shuai; his protege Tan Ting, who is China's first full-fledged deaf lawyer; Gao Yi, a senior teacher at Shuangliu Special Education School in Chengdu, Sichuan province; and Liang Yuyin, secretary-general of the Chongqing Hearing Impaired Association.

"Learning legal sign language is interesting but challenging," said Luo, adding that the off-campus mentors' classes are only given on weekends and she needs to practice the language for at least half an hour every day.

This September, Luo will begin her postgraduate studies in law at the City University of Hong Kong.

"I heard Hong Kong has done well in public social services like barrier-free accessibility, which I can learn from," she said.

Since 2021, the experimental class has nurtured nearly 160 students like Luo from various majors who are aspiring to engage in public legal services. "Human rights protection is for all individuals, including the disabled," said Tan Zongze, dean of the university's Administrative Law School. "We need to provide them with help."

Over the past four years, the "Sound of Law", a public legal service program established by the university, has organized over 100 online and offline legal sign language activities, in which over 50,000 people nationwide have participated. Among them, more than 30,000 are students from 47 primary and secondary special education schools in 13 provinces.

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349