“Only 10 interpreters in Hong Kong?!”

My jaw dropped as I learned the news; A Deaf friend, whom I met in Hong Kong, shared with me about the struggles they face in Hong Kong.

While traveling, one of my goals is to learn about different deaf community around the world. It is not only for my own personal growth as a Deaf person but to

spread awareness.

I want to explore further about different DHH communities around the world, to share and learn about our accomplishments and struggles.

Not many may have heard of this, but we have a Deaf culture. We have our own language, social norms, beliefs, etc. There are many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people around the world, whereas some may identify themselves Deaf, Hard of Hearing (HH), Deaf-Blind, Late-Deafen, Hearing Impaired*  or just say,“I have hearing loss.” However, this does not mean that they all know sign language.

Some have found their Deaf identity, whereas some do not or have not discovered it yet. 

However, no matter where we come from, Deaf culture co-exist among with other culture which makes us a bicultural or even tricultural! Many DHH communities around the world share some similarity or differences, based upon where they live due to socioeconomic, culture, environment and other factors.

Hong Kong is one of the countries that I came to learn about our similarities and differences.

One of these Deaf Hong Kongers that I met named Jenny, who is very active in the Deaf community. She was Deaf anchor in Hong Kong for a Deaf TV program online. She hopes that in the future, it will go on television to spread awareness. Not only does she know American Sign Language and Hong Kong Sign language, but she also teaches International Sign Language to her peers.

I was really inspired by Jenny’s determination and activism in her country to raise awareness and how supportive she is with her community. Although we Deaf all face oppression around the world, we still need to recognize the privileges and disadvantages we have as well. Jenny and her friends taught me something that made me realize that we Deaf Americans have, comparing to the Deaf community in Hong Kong.


1. There is NO video relay service (VRS)

Video Relay Service, Image found on University of North Texas’ website

Foolishly, I admit I assumed that many developed countries around the world have Video Relay Service. Jenny opened my eyes that weren’t the case. 

For those who are wondering what is a Video Relay Service (VRS), it enables Deaf and Hard of Hearings to communicate with Hearings* through a qualified sign language interpreter on television, computer or mobile.

If this is still confusing to you, think as if you (Hearing) are facetiming or skyping, right? You’ll be talking directly to a person. However, as a DHH person, we will video call directly with a sign language interpreter, who then will call the Hearing user. The interpreter will be in between the conversation for the Deaf person and Hearing user.

It also enables DHH people to communicate directly with other DHH, just like facetiming or skyping – without the interpreters.

Generally, VRS is most preferred and effective for the Deaf/HH, especially for those who know sign language. 

Since 2002, there are a couple of VRS providers (such as Sorenson, Purple, Convo and ZVRS) in America. I remember how enthusiastic the DHH community was when VRS came into our lives in early 2000s. It provides the accessibility for many DHH than solely relaying on typing and reading (like TTY and IpRelay, which slowly crease its use nonexistent in particular countries).

It also promotes and enhances greater sense of autonomy.

Before using VRS, I used to relay on my family members to make calls for me, even to make doctor appointments. I personally don’t like it – especially when I was already an adult. Having the capability to make the calls on my own was really exciting – something that not many Hearing people realize that they have the privilege to make their own phone calls. 

Few other countries also have VRS (such as Canada, Germany, etc.), but unfortunately, there are several countries that still do not have VRS, and Hong Kong is one of them. Deaf people in Hong Kong expressed that they want the accessibility to make calls to their family members, friends and completing the tasks on their own.

This, no doubt, is a challenge for DHH community in Hong Kong.


2. There is only ONE Deaf Institute

Image: the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf center in choi hung estate. Photos Copyrights: Edward Wong; James Whittle

Visiting the one and only institute in Hong Kong was on my itinerary; Unfortunately, I didn’t find the time to visit and explore Lutheran School for the Deaf. I had so many things to explore in so little time (only visited for 5 days).

In America, we have approximately 67 Deaf institutes, whereas Hong Kong has only 1 institute. For a large population of DHH, this is not enough.

Note that this is not an accurate map since not all schools for the Deaf are shown here on Google Map.


Only one: Lutheran School for the Deaf

Maybe some of you wondered,

“But doesn’t that make sense for a very small country?”

Believe me, I feel you, but Google Map has been fooling us. Even though we know that Hong Kong is comparatively small, wait till you visit there. It’s actually bigger than you think.

It takes a lot of effort and time to go to only ONE institute, especially if they live far away. For example, it may take an hour or so if coming from Lantau Island, Tuen Num (Northwestern area) or other areas that take considerable amount of time for transportation. Not only it is about commuting to the institute is the issue, but can you imagine the numbers of Deaf children that need to go to that one institute? Some may need to be on the waiting list and go to different school instead.

The Deaf institutes are where a Deaf child can interact with other Deaf children – a place where they may feel home and communicate with their peers, sharing the same identity and culture. Hong Kong’s Deaf community hopes to have more Deaf institutes in the future. 

3. Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL)

“Is Hong Kong Sign Language similar to Chinese Sign Language?” I asked one of them. “No, it’s not really similar, it’s different,” a friend said.

Some often assumed that Deaf Hong Kongers use Chinese Sign Language (CSL) but according to my friends, they said they have their own sign language, Hong Kong Sign Language. 

Coincidentally, when I bumped into a different Deaf group while shopping in Ladies’ Market in Hong Kong, they turned out to be visitors from China. Although I only hung out with them for a night, I noticed the differences between HKSL and CSL. Imagine trying to remember different signs of HKSL and CSL at the same time!

4. Social Gathering

Since they do not have VRS, Jenny mentioned that the DHH community often meet up to socialize; whereas in America, many Deafs use Video Phone to chat within the DHH community and do not often spend time together as Deaf Hong Kongers.

Fortunately, they found another way to communicate within the DHH community or those who know sign language. Jenny mentioned that an app called, Glide (a live video-messaging) which became increasingly popular within Deaf community (as well in other countries). However, it is still very not effective for calling Hearings who do not know sign language.

Although the Deaf community in Hong Kong does not have Video Relay Service, they expressed that they were happy to get out there to socialize and see their friends in person.

5. Insufficient interpreters

HKSL interpreter in a green shirt. Screenshot photo, found: South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

I was shocked when Jenny told me that there are only 10 interpreters. Jenny said, about

“7,000 people know sign language, and there are only 10 interpreters. How….how can a very small number of interpreters help this large population – 7,000 people? It’s impossible! We still don’t have enough interpreters…”

I can’t even image the frustration of not having an interpreter available for certain events, such as when attending a class or a doctor appointment. I live in California, and there are a lot of interpreters here, even those who aren’t qualified to be one. Although there are still areas that need improvement, we have a lot of availability in some cities in California. As a Deaf American, we’re fortunate with sufficient interpreters – unlike Deaf Hong Kongers.

*update as September 2016 – According to Jenny, she recently shared an updated news about the interpreter service. She said that it have improved a little bit. 

“Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the Hong Kong Association of Rehabilitation Advisory Committee on Labour and Welfare in 2015 and jointly set up the ‘Hong Kong Sign Language Interpreter list,’ who set out to provide a sign language interpreter services in Hong Kong. 

A sign language interpreter needs to start at the filing date of the count, provide at least 200 hours of sign language translation services within past two years, and supporting documents held by the agencies to issue employment. Their name and personal data can be added to this list, with the registered line interpreter for the deaf to provide translation services.”

So, why does it matter to me? Wait, actually scratch that,

Why does it matter to any Deaf community around the world? 

Because their struggle is ours too. Because we can relate to it, we understand their pain. Their frustration. Their optimism. Their hope. Their determination. Their fight for their community.

Although all Deaf communities are marginalized around the world, it is imperative to check within our own privilege. Becoming more aware about the others’ challenges will provide us more knowledge; we can use that knowledge to spread awareness and hopefully enact some changes in their community. If the other Deaf community receives tremendous support (via donation, education, etc.), they will become stronger to stand up and make the change. Although not immediately, but surely and gradually, they will earn their rights. 


9 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing VRS to me. It’s good to know that we can still communicate deaf people through sign languages. Coincidentally, I started to watch some video tutorial about sign languages and how are we going to interact with the deaf. To be honest, I’ve got confuse, I thought one sign language is enough. I should have to learn local sign language as well as other Sign languages preferably English and it’s pretty hard. Good thing I came across your site, you’ve got me inspired. I wish I could be a good interpreter someday. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I imagine that learning key phrases in CSL or HKSL is more tricky than me learning helpful Mandarin phrases. I just always love how you share your obstacles and great experiences together. 🙂

  3. Stacey,

    Lovely to see some familiar faces. We went to Hong Kong as our first destination, when we left in 2015. We loved the Deaf Community, and left good friends behind.
    Yes the Interpreters situation is shocking, we could’t believe it ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Hope to meet you guys one day.

    Telma & Thomas from Blank Canvas Voyage

  4. I’m a hearing person, and taking asl at school. It’s so amazing and inspiring how much you guys fight against the odds and dont let obstacles stop you!!! ?

  5. Hi, I came across this blog article almost accidentally and I live in Hong Kong but I had no idea we only have 10 interpreters. Your blog is so inspiring and looking forward to reading more of your articles!

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