deaf Indonesian
One of the Deaf Indonesians who is raising Deaf awareness in Indonesia

“We still have a long way to go but we can do it.”  

The Deaf Indonesians looked at me with pride and diligence. They’ve been facing discrimination in Indonesia and yet they are constantly investing their time and effort to earn their rights. 

I couldn’t tell you enough how inspired and enlighten I was by the Deaf community in Indonesia. I met many young Deaf Indonesians who were fighting for their rights, human rights. They were fighting for their education, sign language, job opportunities and more. What really impressed me the most was that many have great resiliency.

Although resiliency is not only in Indonesia but some other countries (such as Hong Kong) as well. Whereas some stood so far behind, like Nicaragua. But in Indonesia, this was where I first really see it in my eyes. I see it by walking in the Deaf Art Community in Yogyakarta, Sushrusa Deaf school in Bali and heard many personal stories. 

Through all of these, I’ve learned different facts about their lives in Indonesia. 

deaf Indonesia

They have no financial support from the government.

I first thought that Indonesia would provide welfare for the Deaf community but they shook their head with disappointment. Unlike them, many Deaf people in America are eligible for welfare if they can’t find jobs (although it isn’t sufficient, considering the ridiculous cost of rent, utilities, school and more). 

But them? Deaf Indonesians need to work, even shittiest jobs.

Some cannot even work, because several Hearing* people just don’t want to hire Deaf people. Even if they get hired, a small wage isn’t sufficient enough for their daily lives. They have very limited employment opportunities and face daily discrimination due to lack of Deaf awareness. Because of this, the Deaf community has asked for financial support but the government wasn’t listening. Some Deaf Indonesians would need to have financial support from their parents if possible but the problem is that many couldn’t be financially independent if they want to be.

Indonesian sign language

They have to fight back for their own language.

I’m not talking about spoken Indonesian language. I’m talking about their own sign language, BISINDO (Bahasa Isyarat Indonesia). 

Yes, there are different sign language around the world. Sign language is not universal. 

Initially, they have old Indonesian sign language but there were no official name. But their language was eventually taken away by their government. The government claim that they must learn sign language that will follow exactly like Indonesian grammars (they call it SIBI) and some signs were taken from American Sign Language (ASL). 

“With SIBI, I couldn’t even understand it. That ‘sign language’ is so limited and we couldn’t have a depth conversation. There were several miscommunication, and I couldn’t even gain further knowledge. With BISINDO, all Deaf people are involved and can communicate effectively,” a Deaf Indonesian friend shared. 

Can you imagine your own government claim to know what is “right” for you? Or having your own language being taken away from and force you to learn a new language?

Deaf Indonesians had to protest and fight for their own sign language, not the language that was developed by their Hearing* government. Many years passed and finally, they did it. In the year of 2016 (which was just recently!), a law passed in recognizing their own sign language, BISINDO.

deaf art community indonesia

They are on their own at schools.

There are more than 20,000 Deaf Indonesians, and approximately 8,000 of them get an education. 8,000. Those ~8,000 Deaf Indonesians still didn’t get an adequate and effective education. 

Because the government claim to know what’s the best for them, several Deaf people are forced to learn how to speak than being provided options, such as learn only sign language or bilingual (oral + sign language). Even if they have sign language interpreter, some faced difficulty with it. Why? It is because the government declared to change their own sign language to American Sign Language or SIBI, and that what the majority of interpreters are signing – leaving many Deaf Indonesians confused and lost. 

With limited availability and ineffective accommodation, many Deaf Indonesians have to try their best to lip-read their teachers which is not easy and generally ineffective. Teachers’ lips are moving too fast for them to catch up. When they turn around to write something on the board and continue on talking, how the heck can they understand them? 

Although many were raised orally,* they still faced several challenges. Yet some were very assertive, such as asking their Hearing classmates for support or having school notes taken. Deaf Indonesians have to make extra effort in learning. Some were even so motivated and assertive that they would apply to same colleges again and again, until they finally get in – and that’s one of my Deaf Indonesians friends…and he’s only 19. 

Because of poor education for the Deaf, it still affect them greatly – mentally, spiritually and intelligently in some ways. But their resiliency? Not quite. 

deaf teacher

If the school insists teaching sign language, they receive no support.

If the Deaf school insists teaching sign language, the government will not financially support. AT ALL. They’re be like “you’re on your own.” Literally. 

And Sushrusa deaf school in Bali is one of them. I visited that school and met 3 Deaf passionate teachers. They shared the struggle of not having sufficient finance and rely on donations and sponsorships. Because of this, these beautiful Deaf Indonesian children only have 4 hours of school everyday.

Was it a typo error? No, it’s actually 4 HOURS. That’s it

(You can donate here!) 

From a cultural Deaf perspective, learning sign language and/or oralism is crucial for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. Relying solely on oralism create more developmental difficulties, including their emotional, intellectual and mental aspects. 

deaf children

Self-Advocacy is difficult, and their government wouldn’t listen.

“How can we advocate ourselves if we didn’t get proper education growing up?” one of my Deaf Indonesians said. I nodded sadly in agreement.

 They’re right. How? They wouldn’t taught how to express their own thoughts, including their own needs.  

Although some Deaf have united together and protested for their rights, they often struggled. The government turned their heads away and sweep them under the rug. It’s saddening that they need to prove that they are capable to do anything due to their perceptions of Deaf people.  

Since their own government weren’t listening, Deaf Americans who have careers and/or PH.D degrees have to go and advocate for them. They educated Indonesian governments and agencies, in addition to proving them how capable Deaf people are. They can wave their degrees in their faces, “hey look, we have successful careers.” This caused the government to finally listen. Although the government only really started off by giving more opportunities for Deaf Indonesians to enroll in colleges. But it is a start.

Deaf Indonesians

Because of the Deaf Americans, they became empowered.

The Deaf Americans want to show the Deaf community in Indonesia that DEAF CAN DO ANYTHING. That there is nothing wrong with our brain. What’s wrong is the society

They worked with other Deaf Indonesians through agencies, organizations and institutions to provide support, including cross-cultural exchange program, Deaf Youth Leadership program and workshops relating to human rights, legal protection and sign language. 

Because of this tremendous support, the Deaf Indonesian became enlighten and empowered. Deaf Indonesians couldn’t thank the Deaf Americans enough. Although the resources has spread from Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Masala to Bali, they face challenges to share resources to other islands, such as West Paupa. 

A Deaf Indonesian friend sighed at that thought but smiled that they can now stand up for themselves, advocate for change and spread awareness. They voice their needs. They all stand so much stronger than ever. Resilient.

deaf school

Deaf Indonesians, keep on fighting.

indonesia disability

Was anything supririsng or interesting to you?

Have you experience with any certain community that grow you? Share your thoughts/feelings in the comment below!  

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6 Responses

  1. When I was younger, one of my really good friends – Eddie Walker – parents were both deaf. It was intimidating at first, because they just sounded different. They could read lips very well and speak, so we were able to communicate. Once I got over my initial apprehension, I realized that they were, in fact different, because they kept plastic over the couch, had plastic on all the floors, and two toy poodles with painted nails. People are people, but in the end, Eddie’s parents were just people, who happened not to be able to hear.

  2. Wow. Just wow. I’m at a loss for words. Just can’t believe the government would turn its back on the people like that. Thank you for writing about this, for raising the awareness.

  3. It was amazing to know that there is a community in Indonesia that people with hearing difficulties could stick and support one another. The sign language T-shirt is a nice touch and I hope it won’t stop them from living their lives and see the amazing world! @ knycx.journeying

  4. My mother taught the deaf to speak and prohibited sign language. This is so the deaf can be more mainstreamed to the hearing world. If they just do sign language, they will just communicate with one another. Lately, governments have okayed both but still give emphasis to teaching the deaf to talk so they can read lips and communicate with the hearing world.

  5. Wow. I had a whole range of feelings reading this post. I feel ignorant that I don’t fully understand this struggle. I feel amazed at how hard people fight all over the world for the rights I have daily. I feel annoyed and frustrated to hear that their Government won’t support the deaf community or schools. I feel like I want to learn to sign but I have no idea where to start.
    Thank you for raising this issue to my attention. I haven’t had family or friends who are deaf so I’ve never engaged with these issues or learned more

  6. it is great that they are uniting to raise awareness and work for a common cause. I have taught myself to sign in the past. Although I have forgotten some stuff. I really like the t shirt.

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