An Insight Into Singapore’s d/Deaf Community And Our Experience With Them
Due to the brevity of the article, we chose to use the terms ‘deaf’ and ‘Deaf’ interchangeably. However, it is important to acknowledge the differences between them. The term ‘deaf’ is typically used to address individuals who have hearing difficulties, while ‘Deaf’ is associated with one's cultural identity within the community.
Now that we have highlighted the importance of the d/Deaf terms, let us introduce ourselves before we let you dive into our article. The first writer is Syazwan, a current Year 4 Psychology student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who was a volunteer with one of NTU Welfare Service Club’s portfolios, Regular Service Project for the Deaf Community (RSPDC). During his time volunteering with RSPDC, he conducted tutoring sessions and enrichment activities for the Deaf, with ages ranging from primary school all the way to secondary school. The second writer is Fadilah who is currently in her first year at NTU majoring in English Literature. Like Syazwan, Fadilah is also a volunteer for the Deaf with another one of NTU Welfare Service Club’s portfolios, Special Project Camp Outreach (COR), which organises volunteering expeditions and full-day events for the deaf, as well as an annual camp with the deaf community.
Through our writing, we aim to provide insight into Singapore’s d/Deaf community in this article by sharing about our volunteering experiences & interactions with members from the Deaf community within our home country. Hence, it is crucial that we attempt to provide the most accurate information about the deaf community and how we learnt to adapt to their environment.
The d/Deaf Community in Singapore
According to the Singapore Association for the Deaf, there are around 500 000 individuals with hearing loss in Singapore, accounting for about 8% of the total population in Singapore (Singapore Association for the Deaf, 2018). The language commonly used by the local d/Deaf community is Singapore Sign Language (SgSL), which has its origin from Shanghainese Sign Language, American Sign Language, Pidgin Signed English, Signing Exact English and locally developed signs. Although SgSL is typically regarded as Singapore's native sign language, it is important to note that not all deaf individuals are exposed to SgSL or other forms of sign language.
Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) Classes
Therefore, given that the main mode of communication for the d/Deaf community in Singapore is SgSL, it was imperative for us to learn it to carry out our respective portfolio’s events and activities. To do so, both RSPDC and COR have separate arrangements to organise SgSL classes taught by deaf instructors from the community, with the purpose of equipping volunteers with the ability to communicate with the deaf community. Apart from learning the vocabulary and grammar, we also learned more about the different degrees of hearing loss (mild, moderate, and profound), the Deaf culture, community, history and lived experiences through sharings by the deaf instructors.
These classes run weekly for up to 10 weeks, lasting around 2 hours at night and are held on the school campus. There are various levels of SgSL class offered — ranging from level 1(beginner), level 2 (intermediate) and level 3 (advanced). We were required to attend Level 1 SgSL classes before we could proceed with our respective duties since we needed to know how to communicate with the deaf. However, we were highly encouraged to expand on our knowledge and attend level 2 and level 3 SgSL classes.
Experiences with the deaf community
In our involvement with the deaf community, we were also exposed to various terminologies to address people in the deaf community. These include terms such as deaf, Deaf (for individuals who identify with the Deaf culture), hard-of-hearing, children of deaf adults, persons with hearing loss, and many others. Some terms such as hearing impaired or deaf and mute are regarded as euphemisms for the deaf, and we are advised to avoid such terms when interacting with the deaf.
As members of RSPDC and COR, we also had the opportunity to participate in and organise various outreach events for the deaf and hearing community (individuals who do not have any hearing difficulties). These experiences taught us ways to promote accessibility for the deaf. For instance, we would have sign language interpreters present during our events and talks. We would also prepare visual aids for our activities to make them more accessible. Besides this, we were taught other forms of accessibility such as captioning and transcription services.
In summation, this article briefly highlights our various experiences with the deaf community and our passion for volunteering which we hope to have sparked interest for you to learn more about the deaf community and their cause. However, there are discourses and conversations that are not discussed within the scope of this article, such as the need for more deaf awareness and accessibility in society. To that end, we have been working on a video that not only sheds light on this topic, but also gives insight into what it is like working as a sign language interpreter in Singapore. Hence, do look forward to the video and be sure to return in due time when it comes out!