‘Art is one channel through which the deaf can communicate well’

Monday April 30, 2007

Drawing and painting classes at Silpakorn University are usually quiet as students need to concentrate on their work, but last week’s lessons in one specially arranged class turned out to be quieter than normal. This was because teachers and students only used sign language to communicate in class.

Art lecturers from the university’s decorative arts faculty also taught very slowly to make sure that translators correctly deliver their message to the students.

”This was not only a special classroom for the hearing-impaired pupils, but also for arts teachers provided with a hard-to-find opportunity to learn how to teach the deaf ,” said applied arts professor Noppadon Viroonchatpun, head of the art camp project for deaf students.

”We have to adapt our teaching method to suit the hearing-impaired learners. It is a big challenge,” said the professor, who is also a special arts lecturer at Mahidol University’s Ratchasuda College, a facility for the disabled in Nakhon Pathom province.

Seeing the hidden artistic talents in the disabled and believing that art will help develop the hearing-impaired kids physically and mentally, Mr Noppadon and his three fellow professors decided to spare their free time by offering free drawing and painting classes to the deaf during the university’s summer vacation.

Fifty-five deaf high school students from state-run schools for the deaf in Nonthaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Chon Buri, and Bangkok participated in the four-day art camp, which ended last Friday.

Mr Noppadon said he chose the high school students hoping that the project would serve as a guideline for the hearing-impaired learners, so that they can decide whether they should pursue their higher studies in arts.

Since the professors were operating with a limited budget, they had to ask the university’s permission to use the faculty’s classrooms to hold the special classes. The tools _ pens, paper and water colours _ came in the form of donations from the faculty and stationery shops at the campus.

Ratchasuda College also supported the project by sending four sign language experts to help teachers communicate with the students.

”These students have unique characteristics and a mindset that makes their drawings and paintings exceptional,” said Mr Noppadon.

”The work they produced was mostly imperfect and went against all art rules because their learning ability and artistic skills are inferior to their peers.

”But these imperfections, such as using unharmonious colours or drawing distorted shapes, also contain artistic value,” said the art lecturer.

”Being in a silent world also puts the deaf in a better position to develop their ideas and be more creative. Most ‘normal’ students can’t do this because they are disturbed by outside forces,” he said.

Jutamas Ungkosachanavanich, a 17-year-old deaf student from Nakhon Pathom, said she learned many new drawing and painting techniques from the four professors by attending the special classes. ”No one knows about these techniques in my school. I love painting with water colours, but find drawing too difficult,” she said.

Nattapong Changjern, 21, from Chon Buri, said he attended the four-day session just to improve his drawing skills.

”If I’m presented with an opportunity to practise more with a pro, I hope to become an artist one day,” he said.

Tunyaporn Noulpum, a sign language translator who has worked with the deaf for more than 10 years, said deaf people basically have difficulty in expressing themselves. ”Art is one channel through which they can communicate with others.”

The sign language professional said since there were as many as 300,000 deaf people in the country, more such art-for-deaf camps should be run.

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