Making Merry With Sign Language

Written by
Sya Taha
Content via AbleThrive Original
AbleThrive Original
Written by
Sya Taha

Some time away from home not only provides a breath of fresh air, but also innovative ideas. Deaf advocate Lisa Loh, 29, was inspired to organise something to help improve the lives of those in the Deaf community in Singapore after living in Japan.

In 2013, Lisa participated in a 10-month leadership programme sponsored by Duskin Ainowa foundation for people with disabilities. After losing her hearing as a baby, Lisa was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) seven 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.

people gather for Singapore Deaf Happy Hour

During her time in Japan, 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. However, trying to organise something under the auspices of an organisation she was working with faced bureaucratic delays for almost a year.

“One of the suggestions was to set up a regular gathering at a nice place so that the students who just learned sign language could practise their signing skills."

Eventually, Lisa set up Singapore Deaf Happy Hour (SDHH) to address the “lack of sense of belonging among Deaf people.” “A big concern is the shortage of interpreters, especially in the younger generation.”

Lisa has been organising monthly SDHH gatherings since March 2016. These meetings are held for the Deaf community at various locations, though hearing people are also welcome. Some of the latter may have learned sign language for years or are just starting to pick it up.

Round tables are a must, since everybody needs to be able to see each other signing. Lisa also prefers to not fix a location for these gatherings in order to accommodate everyone. Instead, the group rotates between a handful of places.

people gather for Singapore Deaf Happy Hour

As with any endeavour, Lisa faces some challenges. She highlights a less-known form of discrimination called ‘Audism’ – the systemic favouring of hearing people – which is widespread in mainstream society.

She gives an example: “I am not trained to speak well. My Deaf friend, who speaks well, made an order at a food stall. When I came to order at the same stall by gesturing to the display board, [the vendor] spoke to her instead of me because my friend talked to me using sign language. I was trying to get his attention but he kept looking at her, not me.”

Within the Deaf community, Lisa works hard to increase the participation of young Deaf people at SDHH gatherings. “More Deaf youth have more awareness among themselves (…) and are different from the older generation – most of them are quite well-educated and have a different sign language style.”

One of Lisa’s hopes for SDHH is to increase the pool of interpreters in Singapore by encouraging contact and socialising opportunities between Deaf people and hearing people who can and are eager to socialise and practise sign language.

According to her estimates, there are just five professional interpreters locally for around 6000 Deaf people. Singapore’s ratio of 1:1200 is in stark contrast to the 1:5 ratio of Japan, where there are around 30,000 interpreters for 150,000 Deaf people nationwide. With more interpreters, there is a better chance that Deaf people, who have different signing styles, will be understood.

“Interpreters in Singapore work more than the ones in Japan. [They] have to learn different signing styles from different Deaf people so that they will be familiar with translating sign language into English.”

Lisa says she will continue organising these gatherings because she has seen how it has helped both Deaf and hearing people.

“[It] benefits those with adulthood hearing loss, or who have little or no knowledge of how to live as a Deaf person. Deaf people who did not learn sign language in childhood are also happy to learn through socialising.”

Finally, to those who are curious about participating in SDHH, Lisa recommends that there is no better way to understand Deaf people better than to join in these gatherings. “Deaf people will not bite you if you try to talk to them,” she jokes. “If you have a passion for sign language, join the gathering to pick up more signs.”

“For myself, I enjoy networking and chatting with different people from all walks of life!”

Be sure to share this post to encourage others to organise gatherings - they are a great way to learn about one another!

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