DeafTalk: When taking notes is serious business

Amazing grace.. and speed.

“I’m Grace Tan and a staff notetaker with the Singapore Association for the Deaf.

Being a notetaker is interesting because it’s not a common role. It’s one of a kind, in fact. Many people don’t even know what my job is about or that it even exists!

Basically I go to different venues and sit with the clients to note-take for them. This means, during the lectures, meetings or discussions, I type out what I hear as closely as possible. Then the client can read the text on the laptop screen and understand what is going on.

Notetaking is very dynamic. In the course of my job, the places I go and situations I encounter are always different and changing. The work sounds simple but it is not so straightforward in practice. For example, there are people who speak really, really fast. Or there are lectures that are very, very technical. I had also faced difficulty in entering a venue because I’m not a registered participant (only my client was!).

In such cases, I just try my best. I let the client know it’s something beyond my capability in some ways, like, what I typed would not be 100% and might be lacking in certain areas, so that they understand. When I’m not allowed into a certain venue, I would very politely explain why I’m there.

My typical daily routine is to schedule assignments comfortably across the day. Before each assignment, I would ask for reference materials for context. I read up on them so that I don’t get surprised by technical jargon or difficult words. If it’s a new client, I reach out to them first to check their preferences, such as whether they want me to sit next to or away from them. And if it’s a new venue, I head down earlier, because some of the venues and campus can be hard to navigate. 

What makes for a good notetaker? Of course, you need to be able to type fast and accurately, and also be able to pay attention for long periods of time. I also believe in practicing my typing – the more I do it, the more comfortable I get and the more I improve. But I feel what really helps, and keeps me going, is the willingness and heart to understand the needs of a client and to want to be there for them.”


Behind the DeafTalk series
DeafTalk is an interview series that features SADeaf staff sharing about their roles in serving the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. This aims to create more awareness and understanding of the work we do at SADeaf.

Video interviews conducted by Rabiayatul Adawiyah, Gaius Wong
Coordination, logistics, scheduling, video editing: Firdaus Bahri, Nabilah Bte Zakariah, Melissa Lim
Camera setup, filming,: Lee Wan Ling, Allie Naqia Bte Ahmad
Text (adapted from video interview) and photography: Alvan Yap

DeafTalk: Never a dull day at (social) work

The ‘face’ of the Association – Zhi Hao on duty at the front office counter

“I am Cheong Zhi Hao, a Social Work Associate with the Community Services department. I have always liked helping people. So I studied social work in polytechnic and this job with SADeaf is actually my first after graduation! And I’m now pursuing a degree in social work.

What does my work involve? I provide admin support for the social workers and case managers in my team. Much of my work involves clients’ intake assessments and applications for financial assistance.

I find my work interesting. There is always a lot to learn and every day is different. I did not know sign language when I first joined. But I slowly picked it up and also learned more about Deaf culture, and how Deaf people communicate and express their thoughts and feelings.

I gained insights into how to properly communicate with and treat clients or persons with disabilities. Like, the appropriate terms to address them and not be afraid to approach them. I have come across many people who are afraid of offending persons with disabilities. For example, some think that ‘Deaf’ as a term is inappropriate or rude, but it’s actually totally fine and accepted by the Deaf community.

Handling calls and queries in person and online.

Challenges? Sometimes, for clients who use more of a home-sign or gestural signing style, I need to get an interpreter as it is difficult for me to understand them. For counseling sessions, this poses privacy challenges as having a third party present can be quite intrusive. We respect the client’s wish as to whether to have an interpreter around in such cases.

One crucial issue would be the misconception that Deaf people are not as capable as their hearing counterparts just because they may not be able to communicate via speech. This leads to companies tending not to consider their job applications. But communication doesn’t only mean speaking or hearing; it can be in other forms like writing or texting. I think if people put in the effort, they can accommodate such differences easily.

To me, a good social worker is one who is open minded as well as willing to learn – and also unlearn some of the misconceptions ingrained in us while growing up. Also, they must constantly update themselves of the developments in the field and delve into clients’ background and advocate for them.”

Behind the DeafTalk series
DeafTalk is an interview series that features SADeaf staff sharing about their roles in serving the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. This aims to create more awareness and understanding of the work we do at SADeaf.

Video interviews conducted by Rabiayatul Adawiyah, Gaius Wong
Coordination, logistics, scheduling, video editing: Firdaus Bahri, Nabilah Bte Zakariah, Melissa Lim
SgSL transcribing: Gohpi Nathan
Camera setup, filming,: :Lee Wan Ling, Allie Naqia Bte Ahmad
Text (adapted from video interview) and photography: Alvan Yap

Getting up close with Karung Guni Boy

A man and a woman standing in front of a poster backdrop showing various shows.
Gohpi and Barbara!

SADeaf continues our adventures in the arts sphere! After our past (and on-going) collaborations with the National Museum and Asian Civilisation Museum in supporting accessibility, we ventured into the theatre scene. Karung Guni Boy was part of the Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts 2022 and “created in consultation with The Singapore Association for the Deaf” as the publicity put it.

And here’s the noteworthy part – it was “performed in Mandarin, English, with some Malay, Tamil and Hokkien (and) all performances will be narrated in Singapore Sign Language, with open captioning in English.” And this was where SADeaf came into the picture. Our staff Barbara D’Cotta and Gohpi Nathan were engaged by the production team to advise on accessibility issues and incorporating sign language.

A heartwarming tale about community, caring and recycling, Karung Guni Boy was also multi-lingual, multicultural, diverse (in terms of cast), interactive, inclusive, and had catchy songs and raps. Phew! That seemed a lot to take in. But it all came together in a cohesive and compact whole – befitting a show meant for younger kids (and adults with young hearts). Highlights: The eye-catching set design, in which the attention to detail was evident in the hanging clothes and plants and lights of different hues making up the HDB-flat/corridor backdrop as well as the exquisite puppetry (especially Fluffy the dog).

Now, what were the provisions for Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences? There was closed captioning – via a discreet LCD panel positioned centrally – and reserved seats for our community who would benefit from or need this. Sign language was directly and seamlessly incorporated into the play via Evelyn Chye (tripling up as cast member, narrator and sign language interpreter). The ending scene – in which the entire cast performed the finale song in sign language with gusto – was a sheer delight!

Many thanks to the director Tan Beng Tian and the excellent cast who, as Gohpi noted, picked up sign language with impressive ease. Our appreciation goes, too, to the Esplanade community engagement staff Khairun and Karmen for hosting us to the first show on 19 February 2022.

p/s: Check out the photos of the show by Isabelle Lim (a professional photographer who is Deaf and was commissioned for this assignment).

p/s: For Gohpi and Barbara, both of whom used to be involved with the now defunct Hi! Theatre, taking part in this production brought back many fond memories too!

p/s: Last and not least, do check out the Esplanade’s Accessibility page – which includes information on the Ticket Concession Scheme for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

By Alvan Yap, Editorial Team, Signal

Staff Retreat 2021

MVS staff showing off their candles!
MVS staff showing off their homemade candles!

On Friday, 26 November 2021, a Staff Retreat was held for all staff from SADeaf and Mountbatten Vocational School from 2pm to 5pm. Due to the Covid-19 situation, this became an online-only event for the second year running.

We had a good turnout of 58, though some staff were unable to attend due to work matters. Two activities – health workshop and candle making – were specially arranged. Staff learnt useful tips provided to keep themselves healthy and active on “My Journey to Better Health” and also had fun picking up candle decorating skills via step-by-step instruction.

Kudos to the organising committee – James, Mabel, Kar Leng, Nabilah, Farzanna, Yumunna – for their hard work.

Here’s looking forward to next year’s staff retreat.. hopefully in person!

Zoom screenshot of staff participants
Zoom screenshot of staff participants
Screenshot of instructor and interpreter, and slide.

By James Ong, chair, staff retreat committee

Honouring our pioneers: Ms Tan Keng Ying

Ms Tan Keng Ying received the SADeaf Lifetime Achievement Award (Posthumous) during the annual Deaf Achievers’ Award Day held in conjunction with the IWPD (International Week of Deaf People) 2021.  

The graphic shows a black and white photo of Ms Tan Keng Ying, which is smiling and waving. She has a short cropped hairstyle and wears glasses. The text is one of her quotations: "I am not much different from others who can hear and talk. I can try to do what they do, if not better."
We will always keep her in memory.

The following is the citation for the award.

The late Ms Tan Keng Ying was a dedicated volunteer with SADeaf, serving the Deaf community in various ways and capacities over three decades. Among the positions in which she served were as SADeaf Vice-President, SADeaf Executive Council Member, being a member of Social Group of the Deaf (formerly known as Sports and Recreational Club of the Deaf), as well as being involved in numerous other committees focussing on advocacy, Deaf access and sports. 

Through the years, Keng Ying was nominated and sent to represent Singapore, in an official capacity, in international Deaf events such as World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) World Congress and International Conference of the WFD. She also took the initiative to attend some of these events on a personal basis, and at her own expense, to network and build ties with fellow Deaf advocates and friends overseas. 

Keng Ying had been a steadfast and selfless volunteer who stood by SADeaf and maintained a positive outlook through tumultuous times. Well-liked and respected among the Deaf community for her personality and commitment, she was always available to undertake tasks big and small, from being a Deaf tour guide to filming publicity videos to organising SADeaf events, among countless other acts of service.

Keng Ying also had the distinction of being one of the relatively small number of Singaporeans who graduated from Gallaudet University in the United States, the only university for the Deaf in the world.

Besides her long service with SADeaf, Keng Ying also actively served with other organisations. She was a board member of the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) and Deaf Sports Association (Singapore).

Watch the full video of our online Deaf Achievers’ Awards ceremony here!

Honouring our pioneers: Ms Elizabeth Khoo

Ms Elizabeth Khoo received the SADeaf Lifetime Achievement Award during the annual Deaf Achievers’ Award Day held in conjunction with the IWPD (International Week of Deaf People) 2021.  

Photo shows Ms Khoo seated at her desk. She is looking at the camera, has glasses on, and a black SADeaf shirt on. Behind her are files, pinned notices and drawings. On the desk beside her are the award plaque, certificate a soft toy.
Elizabeth at her desk, a familiar sight at the SADeaf office for decades.

The following is the citation for the award.

Ms Elizabeth Khoo Chye Tiang joined SADeaf as a staff in 1965, just ten years after the Association was established and in the same year Singapore gained independence. After her retirement in 2021, she would have worked at SADeaf for a total of 56 years and become the Association’s longest-serving staff. 

During Elizabeth’s long career with SADeaf, she had worked tirelessly at both the Singapore School for the Deaf (SSD), SADeaf’s affiliated school, for 20 years. She then transferred to SADeaf, handling administration, coordination and event organisation. Her last position was as an executive undertaking social work-related tasks in the Community Services Department. 

A familiar face to generations of Deaf clients, SSD alumni, and volunteers, Elizabeth has contributed much to the Association and community in various capacities. She was involved in key committees and pioneering projects over the decades, as reflected in the many varied positions she held: Secretary and member of the Social Group of the Deaf from the 1970s to the 1980s, as well as being the staff liaison of the SADeaf Family Day organising committees. 

Elizabeth was active as a member of the then Adult Education Committee during the 1980s. She had a vital role in running the Adult Outreach Programme which catered to Deaf clients with little formal education who benefited from learning basic English and life skills. Elizabeth was also a Deaf interpreter who was comfortable interacting and working with Deaf people from the Pioneer generation and those who were from the lower education group. She also interpreted for Deaf clients in various settings such as police cases and in medical, legal and court cases. 

In the later part of her SADeaf career, Elizabeth was a key member of the social work team handling home visits and supporting counselling sessions in sensitive cases. Despite the confidentiality and sensitivity of her work, she was able to carry out these challenging tasks well and enabled clients to have proper access to welfare services, as they had trust and confidence in her professionalism. 

Elizabeth also maintained good working relationships with colleagues and helped them to develop their signing skills. Though she is with the Community Services team, she also stepped up to volunteer to raise funds for SADeaf through her creative initiatives and involving the Deaf community to support these.

As one of the pioneer staff of SADeaf who has been with and witnessed the changes in the Association for almost 60 years, Elizabeth has a unique place in the organisation as well as the local Deaf community’s history. Even after her much-deserved retirement in 2021, Elizabeth has pledged to continue serving as a Community Interpreter and work with the Association on its plans to develop a heritage centre.  

Watch the full video of our online Deaf Achievers’ Awards ceremony here!

All the staff at SADeaf wishes Elizabeth a happy and well-deserved retirement as at October 2021, and look forward to seeing her back at events as a much-welcomed volunteer and participant.

Honouring our pioneers: Mr Lim Chin Heng

Mr Lim Chin Heng received the SADeaf Lifetime Achievement Award during the annual Deaf Achievers’ Award Day held in conjunction with the IWPD (International Week of Deaf People) 2021.

Photo shows Mr Lim, with neatly combed white hair, black glasses, and a brown printed shirt. Beside him on a table are the award plaque, a certificate and a soft toy.
Mr Lim, who has taught generations of deaf students

The following is the citation for the award.

Mr Lim Chin Heng is a pioneer Deaf teacher who has played a significant role in local Deaf history and development of Deaf education in Singapore, together with the late Mr Peng Tsu Ying.  

Chin Heng studied at the Singapore School for the Deaf (SSD) under the tutelage of Mr Peng, and later became the first Singaporean to enrol in Gallaudet University in the United States, the only college for the liberal arts in the world for Deaf students. After graduating with a degree in Mathematics, Chin Heng returned to Singapore in the mid-1970s and was instrumental in introducing various teaching approaches and sign languages used in SSD, including Total Communication, American Sign Language and Signing Exact English-II. He went on to obtain a Master’s in Education of the Hearing Impaired from Gallaudet Graduate School in 1981. 

Chin Heng then embarked on a meaningful life-long career in education; he has been a teacher of the Deaf for more than 45 years. Generations of Deaf students have thrived under his guidance and hold him in high regard as their role model and inspiration; for some of them, Chin Heng was their first Deaf teacher in a mainstream secondary school. His last position was as a Mathematics resource teacher at Beatty Secondary School with the Singapore Ministry of Education. Chin Heng had also taught at Mount Vernon Secondary School, Upper Serangoon Secondary School and Balestier Hill Secondary School 

Chin Heng was also deeply involved in SADeaf as a volunteer, holding key positions at various times through 30 years of service. He was in the Executive Council as a member and as a Vice-President in the 1990s, chairman of the Social Group of the Deaf from the 1970s to 1980s, and also held positions in the then Adult Education, Publications, Deaf Access (which he helped set up), Social Work, International Day of the Deaf, and Sign Language committees, among other crucial roles. His full-hearted dedication, passion and commitment to the cause continued even into the 2010s when he oversaw SADeaf’s hosting of the 5th World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) Asia Conference in 2016 as chairman of the organising committee. It was the first time Singapore and SADeaf had held a WFD event.

Over the decades, Chin Heng also played a significant part in advocacy for the rights of Deaf people and sign language both locally and internationally. Besides his roles with SADeaf, he also participated in Disabled People International’s conferences, was a board member, honorary treasurer and vice-president of Disabled People’s Association Singapore for 12 years, sat in numerous feedback and consultation sessions with the government, and was a board member of the then Singapore Sports Council for the Disabled (since renamed Singapore Disability Sports Council). In recognition of his contributions to the welfare and education of the Deaf community in Singapore, Chin Heng was given the Edward Miner Gallaudet Award in 2000. He also received the Outstanding Deaf Citizen Award from SADeaf in 1995. In addition, during the American School for the Deaf Alumni Association (ASDAA)’s 100th Anniversary Celebrations, he was given the 3rd ASDAA Achievement Hall of Fame Award 2014.

Watch the full video of our online Deaf Achievers’ Awards ceremony here!

Update (January 2022): Mr Lim Chin Heng also received the Goh Chok Tong Enable Award (Achievement) which “celebrate persons with disabilities who have made significant achievements in their own fields and serve as an inspiration to others”. SADeaf had nominated Mr Lim for the award. Our heartfelt congratulations to Mr Lim!

Deaf Achievers Awards 2021

The annual SADeaf Deaf Achievers Awards recognise the achievements of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons in various spheres such as sports, academics and other areas. The awards also acknowledge the contributions of the individuals, donors, organisations and ambassadors to our community.

The image shows 5 separate photos of the five award winners and their names.

Outstanding Deaf Student (Secondary Education): Ms Hannah Maria Gomez
Outstanding Deaf Student (Vocational Institute): Ms Gan Jun Huan
Outstanding Deaf Student (Tertiary Education): Mr Elliot Tang Z-Kai
Special Talent: Mr Muhammad Ammar Nasrulhaq
Teacher of the Year: Mr Wong Tuck Seng (ITE College West)

Watch the full video of the Deaf Achievers Awards 2021 ceremony here! (With SgSL interpretation and English captions.)

Celebrating Thriving Deaf Communities: IWD 2021

The annual celebration of Deaf communities, the International Week of the Deaf People (IWDP) 2021, was observed from 20 to 24 September 2021. This is the second year running that SADeaf celebrated and organised our own IWDP events online – via official Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Graphic showing the text: Celebrating Thriving Deaf Communities, International Week of the Deaf People 2021, International Day of Sign Languages 2021, Singapore Sign Language Awareness Week 2021

Aligned to the theme “Celebrating Thriving Deaf Communities”, our programme lineup showcased the history of the Deaf in Singapore, local organisations working with the Deaf, as well as various D/deaf families and individuals sharing their experiences with hearing loss, as well as their interests and careers. We are proud to be able to publicise these stories of members of the Deaf community who are succeeding in life and contributing to our thriving community.

Screenshot of the live dialogue between families sharing their experiences as families with deaf members
Screenshot of the live dialogue between families sharing their experiences as families with deaf members
Escape Room participants posing for photos after completing the game
Escape Room participants posing for photos after completing the game

This year’s IWDP programme also included online games Escape Room and Murder Mystery to engage members of the D/deaf community and their friends. Many were excited and intrigued in the games and enjoyed themselves in solving the puzzles and mysteries.

If you missed the event or wish to revisit the content, head over to this playlist.

Below are some of the popular videos among viewers.

Deaf Lives – Elizabeth Khoo

History of the Deaf in Singapore 

Deaf Experience in WWII 

A screenshot of Neo Tick Tiong sharing his experience in world war 2.
Neo Tick Tiong sharing his experiences in WWII.

Dialogue: Sign as a Family

Workshop for Tertiary Students and Signifique

Screenshot of Zoom session showing the participants.
Screenshot of Zoom session showing the participants.

SADeaf organised our first-ever workshops on Deaf Culture, Community and Language and United Nations on the convention for Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) on 19 June 2021 and and 17 July 2021. The. 57 participants were from NTU WSC RSPDC, MediSign, NP Hi! Club, RP DEAFining, SP Sign Language Club and Signifique. 

The workshop, conducted via Zoom, provided the audience with an intensive knowledge of Deaf culture, community, history, language and what the UNCRPD was about. It was presented by James Ong from the SADeaf Deaf Studies Department and assisted by SADeaf community interpreter, Haizer. 

By James Ong, SADeaf