Muscat: Limited social interaction, lack of sign language speakers and a shortage of assisted hearing equipment are the key challenges to Oman’s hearing impaired population, according to officials.
“There is a lack of awareness with regards to the deaf and their culture. Not many people interact with them or are aware of their issues,” Yahya Al Barashdi, a member of the Oman Association for the Hearing Impaired, told Times of Oman.
Calling for more social interaction with the hearing impaired, he said there are some 15,000 “deaf individuals”, both men and women, in the Sultanate.
“These are people of all ages, ranging from children to senior citizens,” he added.
In April, Oman hosted the 41st Arab Deaf Week under the slogan, “Make the Pen and Book the Deafs’ Friends”, during which a number of programmes were organised for the hearing impaired.
Al Barashdi added, “There is limited support and funds to provide essential hearing aids to school children and college students, who are in great need of them to ensure that they are able to get the most out of the classes they are attending.”
He said the association is working hard, along with the government, to ensure that the deaf are able to attain higher education degrees from universities and colleges in the Sultanate, and by obtaining scholarships to educational institutions aboard.
“Last year, 20 deaf students gained scholarships abroad to complete their undergraduate education in the United States, and three deaf students received scholarships to Jordan,” he said.
Al Barashdi said 88 deaf students are studying at Gulf College, Muscat, while three deaf female students are enrolled at Al Zahraa College in Oman.
“Now the association is striving to obtain similar opportunities from local colleges and universities in the Sultanate to create opportunities for deaf students in their degree courses,” he added.
Al Barashdi said that people are more aware of how to treat and assist people with hearing disabilities,though the deaf have not fully integrated into society due to members of the public not being able to communicate with them or understand them using their language - sign language.
“There is an inability of society and, most importantly, employees in both the public and private sectors, as well as other government entities, from communicating and understanding deaf requirements. This creates a barrier between the deaf and civil society, which is why we emphasise the importance of having sign language speakers or interpreters in service oriented establishments,” he said.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing losses resulting from genetic causes, complications at birth, infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, the use of particular drugs, exposure to excessive noise and ageing.
The organisation further reported that about 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of developing hearing losses due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.
Of note, the current production of hearing aids meets less than 10 percent of global needs, the WHO reports.