15th November 2018
China’s Only Sign Language Lawyer
Isolated from society, people with hearing impairments live in precarious legal positions.
Despite it being his mother’s birthday and 9:00 p.m., Tang Shuai rushed back to his law firm. An elderly woman who’s deaf and cannot speak had been waiting in his office for hours to meet probably the only person in China capable of solving her problem.
Tang is known in China’s deaf community as the country’s only lawyer proficient in sign language. The 34-year-old is a busy man: The government says there are about 28 million Chinese people with hearing impairments — roughly equivalent to the population of New York state — but some experts peg the number at 72 million. When they get into legal trouble, Tang is often their only hope. He carries two phones, both of which have reached the maximum 10,000 WeChat contacts, and his days are full of video calls. He carries three power banks to avoid running out of battery.
Chinese sign language is often not accurate enough for legal situations, and people who rely on it usually cannot read or write.