IWDP 2022: Building Inclusive Communities for All

In conjunction with the annual International Week of Deaf People and International Day of Sign Languages, the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) commemorating the occasion via a five-day series of Deaf and Singapore Sign Language (SgSL)-related events ‘live’ on site and online.

With the theme “Building Inclusive Communities For All!”, we showcased the unifying power of SgSL for our community and as a part of the larger society in Singapore. Highlights include a storytelling workshop by a Deaf actor and talks by Deaf persons on their journeys, as well as a sharing session by a CODA (child of Deaf adults).

Singapore Sign Language Week also aims to raise awareness about the importance of sign language in the full realisation of the human rights of people who are deaf; draw the attention of the politicians, authorities and the public to the achievement and concerns of the Deaf people; and is a week for the Deaf, their families and volunteers to get together and share the joy of their achievements!

Exhibitions, talks, and more!
From 19 September to 23 September 2022, Monday to Friday, an exhibition featuring SADeaf services and Deaf awareness info was held at the SADeaf Hall.

And now, let’s dive into the photos of the various activities, speakers and audience!

About 160 visitors and participants attended the exhibition and talks in the evenings during the IWDP and SgSL Week.

Christophe Tay, a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), gave a well-received talk on “Don’t feel sorry for my deaf parents, communicate with them” on 19 September. He spoke on his personal and family’s experiences as hearing children of Deaf parents – the ups and downs and trials and joys!

The participants taking part in an interactive game with April Chia, our SgSL instructor.

Barbara D’Cotta, SADeaf training manager, deliver a presentation on “A bilingual approach to the education of young deaf children : SgSL and English” on 20 September 2022. She gave insights on how the bilingual bicultural deaf education approached had made an impact on Deaf education in Singapore.

SADeaf staff Gohpi and Moses engage the audience with sign language games!

On 21 September 2022, Yew Hau En, advisor to the World Federation of the Deaf Regional Secretariat for Asia Youth (WFD RSA YS), WFD RSA YS and Youth Work, shared her experience with RSA YS over the past five years.

The 22 September talk was by Alvan Yap who spoke about his 20-year journey from a mainstream school background to being in and part of the Deaf community via Singapore Sign Language.

The entertainment that evening was provided by Elaine Teo, SgSL instructor!

Among the best turnout of the programme, thanks to Elaine and her groupies, eh, we mean, her present and past SgSL students.

On 23 September 2022, we had the honour of having Randy Chew, from the former Hi! Theater group, sharing his SgSL storytelling tips with an enraptured audience!

Our heartfelt thanks to all presenters, speakers, volunteers, audience and staff for contributing to a wonderful week!

Behind the scenes… a peek at our staff and volunteers hard at work setting up and preparing for the event. (Photo by Alvan)

By James Ong, DAS
Photos by Edwin Ong, volunteer photographer (unless otherwise stated)


WFD X SADeaf: Training Deaf Advocates

(Pointing) Towards equal rights!

From 13 to 20 August 2022, SADeaf had the honour of working with the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) to hold a Human Rights and Sign Language Rights workshop in Singapore.

This 8-day workshop was conducted by WFD staff Susana Stiglich (Sign Language Rights Officer) and Alexandre Bloxs (Human Rights Officer). Held at the AVA room at SADeaf, the full-day training was an intense and immersive experience for all 12 participants from the local Deaf community.

Susana enlightening us on sign language rights
Alex explaining complex concepts in simple terms..

The participants were a diverse lot, drawn from a wide range of ages, backgrounds and experiences. What they had in common was their desire to advance the Deaf causes. They were also eager to learn more about advocacy for equal access and equal rights for the Deaf community.

Using the framework of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Singapore had ratified, the trainers dove deep and in detail about how it could help us push for improvements in policies and laws. They also shared many interesting and eye-opening case studies from their native Belgium and Peru, as well as many other countries, of how they had successfully achieved their goals. Some countries have enacted legislation which recognised the native sign languages as official languages; others have disability or Deaf-related laws protecting their right to equal treatment and access.

How could we learn from their journeys or adapt their tactics? How do we adapt advocacy strategies to Singapore’s socio-political setting and culture? How best to navigate our way through the challenges – of lobbying the authorities and having a say in policy making, of raising public awareness and empathy? These, and many more topics, were explored and discussed.

Every school a good school, and everyone an excellent student – with all eyes on the trainer.

Such topics are usually dry and tedious but our intrepid trainers made it accessible and fun for us. So.. thank you, Alex and Susana, for ensuring the workshop was such an engaging and educational one!

Yay! We are now “certified”‘!

Our appreciation goes, too, to the WFD and to The Nippon Foundation which funded this project.

Last and not least, a big thank-you to all Deaf participants who dedicated their time and effort to attend the entire workshop.

Text and photos by Alvan Yap

Family Day 2022: We’re back together again!

25 June 2022 was an especially memorable Saturday for certain SADeaf clients and staff – it marked SADeaf’s first ‘live’ family day event since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Naturally, our clients and family members were excited to see familiar faces in person again after such a long absence from group outings.

The Family Day participants had signed up a SEA Aquarium Guided Tour in collaboration with Xperience Tours. They first gathered at SADeaf, where interpreters, tour guides and staff were on hand to receive them, then we travelled to the venue. All 60-plus people – what a large party! – got to ride on the cable car high above the sea. Happy faces and kids’ laughter abound as we embarked on the cable car ride, taking in the sights and scenery from above.

After the group photo-taking, we were ready to go under the sea! We were split into our separate tour groups for the tour at the SEA Aquarium. At the aquarium, the tour guide provided many insights into the fascinating world under the sea. One interesting question asked was on how we could differentiate between a sea-dwelling mammal such as a dolphin from a fish. The answer? Look at their tails! Mammals have horizontal tails that flap up and down, and fishes have vertical tails which move from side to side.

To end the day, everyone got to enjoy a McDonald’s meal.

Text by Cheong Zhi Hao
Photos by Ernest Toh

To access all photos taken during this event, please click here.

About Deafblindness: A Sharing Session by Tye Lovato

As SADeaf gradually eased its restrictions on gatherings in tandem with Singapore’s opening up after the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, we held our largest gathering since 2020 at the SADeaf Hall on 15 June 2022, Wednesday, from 7:30pm to 9:30pm (though it eventually overran the allocated time and ended at 10pm). And aptly enough, this was for a talk on deafblindness which opened up minds on the topic.

An audience of around 50 from the Deaf community, including Deaf and hard-of-hearing clients, two deafblind persons, hearing allies and members of the public turned up. There were also attendees who attended the event remotely via the live notetaking link provided.

Tye is standing and gesturing on stage. Behind him is his PT and projected on the stage wall is the presentation slide.
Explaining what PT is and its benefits, with a PT in support!

The sharing session was conducted by Tye Lovato, an intern with SADeaf’s Community Service department and was facilitated by SADeaf’s Communication Access department. Tye is from the United States and a third-year undergraduate at the renowned Gallaudet University, pursuing a dual degree in Social Work and Deaf Studies. During his ongoing internship both on-site and remotely, he would be helping with SADeaf’s Deafblind programme.

Tye describes himself as “DeafBlind proud” and has three Deafblind siblings. It was indeed a rare opportunity to hear and learn from Tye, who has much lived experience of navigating life as an independent Deafblind person, especially as we in Singapore are in the nascent stages of setting up our own Deafblind programmes and support systems.

Tye is seated and holding up the hand of his PT, also seated. Standing on their side is another PT.

During his presentation and sharing, Tye was supported by his Protactile (PT) interpreters Jennifer Furlano and Janis Cole. Tye spoke on his personal background, his life experiences, strategies in independent living and the benefits of pro-tactile interpreting. These topics held the audience spellbound, especially the hands-on demonstration of PT interpreting. Tye also gamely tackled the various queries raised by the engaged audience during the Q&A segment.

We are grateful to Tye, with the help of Jennifer and Janis, for doing this insightful session. We also wish to thank interpreters Teo Zhi Xiong and Evelyn Chye – who Tye had requested to voice interpret for him – for their presence and assistance.

Our thanks go, too, to the SADeaf team who worked together and lent their time, energy and resources to ensure the event ran smoothly, including emcee Li Dunrui, interpreters Rashidah Zulkifli and Barbara D’Cotta, notetaker Grace Tan, as well as Ho Yi Lin, and our numerous other unsung backend crew.

And, not least, Tye has a message for everyone: “Thank you for letting me have this opportunity and meeting each of you with many faces and able to touch each of you in my journey. Break the barrier, go through the “can’t” and journey on. I will bring my Singapore experiences back to the United States to share the journey and pass along to many generations of DeafBlind Community.”

Tye is seated with the interpreters and audience participants crowded all around him. Some people are standing, some are seated.
Demonstration of PT interpreting and usage
Tye and his two PTs are standing together, holding soft toys, and smiling.
A photo of Tye, Jennifer and Janis with token of appreciation, the Merdeaf soft toy – thank you for the presentation!
Group photo of the entire audience, team and presenters from a high angle. Most people are waving with both hands.
All together now..
Group photo of Tye in the centre with staff and interpreters.
The (accidentally) perfectly coloured-coordinated staff and interpreting team group photo!

Text and photos by Alvan Yap

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.