Knowing our rights can make a world of difference in how we perceive the world. As a child, accounts and administrative assistant Lisa Loh did not enjoy celebrating Chinese New Year, a festive period of each year that children enjoy the most.
“I was not happy with my deafness. I felt left out when cousins were playing or chatting with my hearing sister. I struggled to communicate with my parents. Like, I wanted to talk with my family but I was not able to express [myself] or they preferred to talk to others.”
After losing her hearing as a baby, Lisa was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) six years ago. RP is a degenerative eye condition that causes eventual total vision loss – though the combination with hearing loss is also known as Usher Syndrome. She currently has about 80 percent of her vision.
Although she went to the Singapore School for the Deaf for her primary school education and had friends with deafness, she still struggled to accept her disability. Instead, she felt that she had to behave like other hearing people.
“I was struggling to socialise with hearing people and could not communicate with them. Many people [in] those days said that sign language was very weird.”
Lisa completed her ‘O’ Levels at Boon Lay Secondary School, which has a special programme for the deaf, and continued towards a business diploma at a private institution. Despite her educational level, Lisa still struggles with other people’s perceptions of her – once they realise she is deaf – as being “illiterate” or “low educated because they cannot hear anything to learn.”
Negative experiences with the public also compounded her reluctance to accept her deafness. “For instance, [once] I was about to ask a waitress for some water but she turned her head to my hearing mother instead of paying attention to me. It made me feel invisible.”
She feels that much of her initial misgivings about her deafness was due to “thinking like hearing people”.
“I was not exposed enough to sign language. I was not aware about Deaf culture and identity. I had no ‘true’ culture inside me.”
The gradual move towards learning more about her rights as a deaf person helped her to appreciate her multiple identities. In 2013, she was selected to attend the Duskin programme in Japan. During this 10-month programme sponsored by the Duskin Ainowa foundation, she learned about support services for the deaf-blind and gained ideas and skills on how to help improve the lives of people around her with disabilities.
“When I started living in Japan, everything changed quickly. Many hearing people knew how to treat me like a Deaf person. For instance, I told a train station staff I am deaf and asked for directions. He took a piece of paper and pen to write on it. It surprised me.”
Together with Singapore Association for the Deaf, Lisa has organised four outings for the deaf in Singapore, who would otherwise be isolated due to the lack of awareness, education and support services available for them. She has also given presentations in sign language to raise awareness about deafness, and has plans to start the first local support group for this community.
“[I want society] to have empathy with us, they do not have to feel sorry for us. We are still doing what hearing people are doing, without hearing anything.”
This article is a part of our #AbleFamilies campaign in Singapore. Stay tuned for real life stories, advice and experiences from people who believe in and represent the potential of all kids. By now empowering the thousands of kids with disabilities in Singapore and supporting their parents and caregivers, we strengthen the next generation of citizens to promote a more inclusive Singapore.