A journalist from the Straits Times, Tan Sue-Ann, contacted me about that by-now-infamous-and-taken-down video. She had questions; I had opinions.
For the record, here is my reply to the questions she asked.
Update (5 December 2017): The news report “The deaf community sees red over signs” has been published.
First, I’ll like to make it clear this is my opinion and I speak only for myself, and do not represent any organisation or community.
<<Snipped – request to preview what would be published pertaining to my reply>>
>> 1. What was Channel 8’s error? Ie. Different sign language systems, using the term “deaf-mute”?
Definitely upsetting was the usage of the term ‘deaf mute’. (I understand written and spoken Chinese.)
Secondly, the sign language used and demonstrated on the programme was, in many ways, not those actually used by Deaf persons among themselves in daily conversation and other settings. Also, I would say Deaf people who use sign language tend to be patient and close an eye or take the time to gently correct when hearing people attempt to sign with them and get some signs wrong. In this case, what gets our goat is seeing people who are not deaf and who are not well versed in sign language (as it is used in real life) going on TV to ‘teach’ sign language to the public.
>> 2. Why is this issue important to the deaf community? Are there terms used in one kind of sign language that are inappropriate in another?
Well. Being having one’s language distorted and misrepresented, and being wrongly portrayed is cause for concern.
Re: terminology. Deaf people (ie. those with hearing loss) are not mute. Their vocal cords are functional, they can speak, they can use their voice. So it is self evident why the term ‘deaf mute’ is inaccurate and offensive. It also perpetuates the misconception and false stereotype of deaf people as mute. Note some deaf people choose not to use their voice for speech (for various reasons). That, however, is not the same as being physically unable to speak or use their voice.
>> 3. What should hearing people know about the deaf community? Ie. What sort of terms to avoid using, what sort of sign language they use?
Well, deaf people are people, first and foremost. Just like everyone else.
Never use the term ‘deaf and dumb’ or ‘deaf and mute’.
So what to call them? Preferably by their names. : )
If we mean how to describe their hearing loss, simple – ask them what they prefer. Some may say they are ‘deaf’, some may say they are ‘hearing impaired’, some may say they are ‘hard of hearing’. Whatever. Just describe them the way they describe and identify themselves as.
And if we are describing deaf persons who use sign language as their ‘mother tongue’ and possess a sense of culture and community bonded by sign language, use the word Deaf (capital D) to describe them.
>> 4. What are the challenges you’ve encountered as a deaf/HOH person? Ie. People in public who don’t understand sign language or the different varieties?
Challenges: Lack of empathy and patience. I don’t need or demand or ask people to know sign language. I simply need them to communicate in the ways which are accessible to me and which they also can do – such as writing (emails), typing (text messages, on paper), and, sometimes, something as simple as moving to a more quiet place so I can hear them better and with less difficulty using my hearing aids.
>> – were there times when people used the wrong sign language with you or with others?
5. What more can be done to educate the public?
Again, it’s not about the usage of wrong or right sign language. I addressed this in question 1.
For one, the mainstream media has to be responsible in ensuring they use accurate and respectful terminology to describe people with disabilities (including the deaf).