Lofi feedback

“One finding that surprised the transport authorities is that respondents do not mind a longer journey if it means a better ride. ‘People brought up – can we have Wi-Fi, can we have a more comfortable commuting experience, so I can do something; I can listen to a podcast, I can clear my emails, I can chat with my friends,’ Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said on Sunday (Nov 25) at a REACH ‘listening point’ (feedback gathering booth) outside Waterway Point in Punggol.” 

Interesting comment from Janil Puthucheary. I look at the commuters on the buses and trains I have been taking for the past year, and they are already listening to podcasts (but more probably music), clearing their emails (not so common), chatting with friends (relatively common) and watching videos (very common but unmentioned) – almost all the time without Wifi. People are already making their rides ‘better’ for themselves, using their own mobile data. And of course, they mind the long journeys, they really do, dear senior minister of state for transport. 

How can we tell? Come, senior minister of state for transport, come follow the typical commuter on a typical bus or MRT journey – you know, the kind which is crowded, standing room only, less than frequent arrivals. Look at the faces of your fellow commuters. Then say, with a straight face, they do not mind longer journeys, if there is free Wifi or other unspecified perks which make for a ‘better ride’. These people simply want to get to work or get home faster. That’s it.

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Oh, mother!

I kena Mothership’s attention. (No, am not linking it.)

For the record, my comment/reply on its Facebook page.

***

I wish to raise these points here:

1. There was no attempt to contact me before sharing and paraphrasing my article on the Mothership site and Facebook page. Yes, I set my Facebook post to ‘public’ – and anyone can view it, share it, link it, etc. But it would be nice if Mothership – a heavyweight social media news site with substantial resources and tacit official backing and presumably some kind of journalistic nous – bothers to ask me first. Because it is basic courtesy? 

And also because..

2. Errors.

“He currently has severe and profound hearing loss, a condition that has progressively worsened since he was a child.”
>> I have severe-to-profound hearing loss. It’s a range. Not severe and profound.

“Yap has been a teacher who teaches deaf children and adults in three schools in Singapore, as well as having taught overseas for six years.”
>> I taught for a total of six years as a teacher of the deaf. I didn’t teach overseas for six years. 

“Yap also said his condition also made him a voracious reader”
>> No, I didn’t say that. It just so happened I picked up the reading habit, as ‘bookworm’ kids do – regardless of their hearing level. 

I was clear enough about these in my original post; I re-read it to check if the misinterpretations and mistakes above were due to my phrasing or word choices – and nope. 

Usage of the term ‘hearing impaired’ to refer to me. 
>> I prefer to be called ‘deaf’ or ‘hard of hearing’. I don’t see myself as ‘hearing impaired’ – which is an outmoded term rejected by many deaf and hard of hearing people who use sign language. Semantics? No big deal? It matters to me and to many others. 

3. Despite everything, thank you for helping get my message out to a wider audience. That, I appreciate too.

Colliding!

I’m now helping at a startup called “Social Collider”. (Hold your horses – it’s not a dating site. Nor the next Facebook.)

Briefly, it provides office/meeting/event spaces for social enterprises – and only certified social enterprises – at the technology and innovation hub of one-north. Social Collider has so far either worked with, hosted or gained support from JTC, RAISE Singapore, SPD, MAS, STB, SIF and other seriously legitimate organisations swirling in the alphabet soup – so there is our credibility.

Oh, and let’s not forget its CEO and founder is Russ “I took a photo with Tim Cook!” Neu, who is (supposedly) known to and beloved by all, according to himself. (I always thought it’s due to his Godzilla-like visage.) Anyway, Russ “I took a photo with Jack Ma!” Neu is an old friend who offered me the positions of CMO/CTO/COO/mascot to which I laughed in his face and declined. Because I’m not worthy of Russ “I took a photo with Chan Chun Sing!” Neu’s generosity. We’re now working on fundraising, publicity and networking – do check it out and join us in doing good!

Find out more: www.socialcollider.co
Follow the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/socialcollider.co

What I talk about when you ask me about my deafness

Time and again, I’ve been asked variations of the following questions pertaining to my deafness. It could be in casual or academic settings (as the ones below are), but they’re at heart the same questions. And after the latest, why not make it public? Next time anyone asks.. here you go. (And there will be many next times.)

* When and how did you lose your hearing?
>> Was diagnosed at age 8, in primary 2, during an MOH checkup in school. Failed the hearing test. Was then sent to the children’s clinic at Outram for a more advanced test and proceeded to flunk that too.

* How did you feel when you had to wear hearing aids?
>> Memory is fuzzy now. It’s more than 30 years since I first started using hearing aids (HAs). I vaguely remember being self conscious about wearing them and also disliked the sounds heard through the HAs – distorted, loud, weird, even scary.

* Would you like to share your journey or experiences when you were learning in school in a mainstream environment? What were your challenges when you were in school in a hearing environment?
>> Looking back, the greatest frustration was that I could hear sounds and speech when I was using my hearing aids – yes, sure, definitely. I. Can. Hear.

But I couldn’t understand what was being said much of the time. Repeat – I. Cannot. Understand.

About 80-100% of the time, speech was incomprehensible. And that was so puzzling and demoralising a phenomenon – I could hear yet I couldn’t understand. (It took me too many years to understand it wasn’t my fault, and that it wasn’t because I wasn’t trying hard enough to hear.)

Why couldn’t I understand? Because of a combination of factors, I guess – quality of analogue HAs not too good, too much background noise, less than conducive environmental settings (big open classrooms, canteens, playgrounds etc), and my rapidly worsening hearing as I grew older. (I’m now at the severe to profound loss level which in practical terms means I’m as deaf as can be.)

So my problem was a simple yet devastating one: Most of the time, I couldn’t understand what teachers were saying and I couldn’t understand what anyone else was saying. This naturally affected my studies and social interaction and self esteem and all that.

* How did you learn to speak and write so well?
>> To explain that, some backstory first. I was initially diagnosed with moderate hearing loss, which I suspected meant that my hearing when I was younger – as in ages 1-6 – was much better. (Because I have progressive hearing loss. Like, some people lose their hair progressively, ie. they become more and more botak. While I become more and more deaf.)

I remember I could hear those SBC drama theme songs in the early to mid 1980s. And I suspect that’s how I picked up speech relatively well – because at the crucial early years of language acquisition via auditory and oral means, I still had enough hearing to be able to do so.

But from primary school onwards, my hearing seemed to nosedive, and I could no longer hear well enough (even with hearing aids) to pick up more language that way. But I did acquire an intense, all-consuming love of books and reading around the same time – I read everything I could and I could read beyond my supposed academic level.

My simplistic theory is: if you read widely and deeply enough from young, you will also get the knack of writing good. In a way, that was a purely random lucky break which saved me, else I would have been cut off from language in a significant aspect.

* When did you learn how to use sign language? Was it difficult learning to sign?
>> In university, when I was 21 or 22.

I guess for me, it was less difficult in certain ways because it was a natural fit for me – I was used to silence and comfortable with it (like, I take off my HAs whenever I don’t need to listen to people talking to me), and I depend a lot on visual cues and awareness to make sense of the world. (Most sounds are meaningless noise to me otherwise.)

And I made the effort to make friends in the local Deaf community, hung out with them, talked to them. And of course, my best teachers when it comes to really learning sign were my primary 3 to 6 students when I was their teacher and immersed in a fully signing school for four years.

* Do you think it is necessary / important / better that children with a hearing loss learn to sign?
>> Let me phrase it in a commonsensical way: It’s important for children with hearing loss to acquire language at the same rate as hearing children, and have the same access to language to do so, and undergo normal cognitive development. It is like saying, every child should get enough nutrients to develop normally and not end up physically stunted. No one disagrees on this right?

But here’s the kicker – not all children with hearing loss will pick up language at a normal rate with oral-based therapies (NAO or AVT, supported by HAs, CIs, etc). In fact, it won’t work out for some. This again is indisputable.

Even if – to be extremely generous and to take an extreme figure – 99.9% of deaf babies succeed in acquiring oral language at the same pace and level as hearing babies, what about the 0.01% who doesn’t and couldn’t do the same for whatever reason?

And this question should be taken seriously because it happens and when it happens, the consequences of failing to acquire language are so direly serious. A child who fails to acquire language early in life (before age 6 and particularly between ages 0-3) is at risk of being cognitively impaired his entire life.

So the issue here is not about whether sign or speech is better. It is not tribal, not about proving this way or that way is better, and it should never be about “you can learn sign or you can learn speech but not both, and you must choose one option and give up the other”. In other words, putting it that way is a false dichotomy. But too often, it has been presented that way. Instead, it is about making sure the kid gets language. And some of them can only get that access to language via sign.

* What do you think of the following views for deaf education:
Oral first, sign later
Both oral and sign together
Total communication
Bi-Bi?

>> I’m for whatever it takes and is necessary for children with a hearing loss. What works best? What does the research say? What does actual experience show? Use it.

* Do you think it is necessary or important for children with a hearing loss to learn to speak?
>> Ideally, yes. If a child with hearing loss is able to learn speech well and also develop language, congratulations. But to say it is ‘necessary’ – no. Because language comes first. If you don’t have clear speech or even no speech, but you have language (sign, written, etc) – congratulations.

* What advice would you give to parents and teachers when teaching children with a hearing loss how to speak? What are your advice to students with a hearing loss who are learning how to speak?
>> No idea, because I can’t remember exactly how I learnt speech. And I don’t really have a “I had speech issues and I overcame it” story to share.

* How do you balance between signing and speech? There are parents who feel that if their child with a hearing loss is taught to sign, they will not use their voice. Any advice?
>> To those who feel that way, I would pose this question to them: Is there any scientific evidence or research which shows that signing will affect the acquisition of speech? I believe not.

In fact, the opposite is true – research has shown that learning sign (which is easier and more accessible for deaf kids) helps in speech development and, more importantly, in language and cognitive development.

Again, again, again – language first. Children will naturally pick up language in the ways which are most accessible to them. And if that happens to be sign, so..? Go ahead. Language first!

Tell them all these. Let them think about it. Encourage them to do their own research; there’s no need to take anyone’s word for it. I might be mistaken, I might have some vested interest in taking this stance – who knows? Check for yourself.

* What has been your involvement in education for learners with a hearing loss?
>> Spent a total of six years, so far, as a teacher of deaf children and adults – in three schools in Singapore and one overseas.

May

I first met May almost two decades ago in a sign language class she was teaching. I still remember what she said back then about me having a distinctive style in my then-nascent signing – which made me go, hey wow, my cute sign language instructor noticed me! She’s now an old friend and, in the Deaf community, a senior I respect and look up to (though we don’t always agree on everything!)

Thank you very much, May, for your friendship, for welcoming me into the Deaf world, and for being one of the first to embrace me as part of the community.

Link to Sunday Times feature “It Changed My Life: Youth camp taught her to be proudly Deaf and aim high”.