Today, I spent the day touring Johor Bahru, a Malaysian city north of Singapore.
I was with 37 other deaf people, four of whom were volunteers like me, who organised today's trip as part of the Singapore Deaf Association's adult outreach programme.
The programme is a noble one. Started 21 years ago, it holds informal sessions with illiterate deaf adults every Saturday. During these sessions, volunteers teach them life skills, such as how to apply for jobs, manage their money, even how to read, write and sign.
Most of the early deaf immigrants who came to Singapore did not speak English, and used signs that originated from Shanghai.
Others did not sign at all. They use what is known within the community as "home signs". Simply, they are crude gestures that are not understood outside the family, since no standardised grammar system guides their expression.
Many of these deaf adults were left behind by an uncompromising government. When the government instituted English as the nation's official language in the 60s, they failed to set up measures to help assimilate these deaf adults into mainstream society.
There were no schools to teach this new and strange language. There was no effort to help them acquire skills which, in time, could lead to industry expertise. The average age of the first generation of deaf people here educated in English is only 35.
Today, the situation of our deaf Singaporeans is not much better.
Schools lack the government support to provide equal quality education. Interpreters, like myself, are mostly volunteers, untrained. Television programmes, including news broadcasts, are not captioned.
Every day, some basic right is ignored - and the relevant ministries' official response is that demand has not yet reached a critical mass to justify the allocation of such resources.
Today, I looked into the faces of these people, and felt ashamed that I was the by-product of a government that took the sensible, economic decision to cultivate only the mainstream.
For many of them, it was the first time they travelled out of Singapore. I saw many passports that were new, applied for in the last month. One of my biggest challenges today was to explain what was "foreign currency", and why they couldn't use Singapore money in the department store.
posted by Cliff
2 Aug 2006
From An Equal Voice