Suzana Slemat

Over time, I discovered the Deaf are as human as me.

All my life, I seem to bump into many Deaf people, and how I know this is when they are not responsive to me. Inevitably, I tried to reach out to them by speaking English, Chinese and Malay, and they were still unresponsive, but it was when I used my dancing hands, they lighted up. I didn’t speak a language they knew, I spoke their language.

Overtime, I discovered that the Deaf are as human as me, which as strange as it may sound, we as hearing, always presume that they are creatures from another planet, only on a basis they they speak another language from us. This was the beginning of my empathy and desire to bridge the gap in communication of the Deaf and hearing, by creating awareness of their struggles. At the same time, when I joined a CCA Hi Club, that’s when I progressively learned sign language, and started to build my connections and encouraging people to learn the language.

My friends found it to be a fun language to learn. Through the club, it gave me exposure in volunteer work and through this, it connected me to Deaf advocates that shared with me the core issues of the Deaf community and how we can help them. Employment, accessibility and awareness. This lovely boy who was extremely happy and boisterous in the classroom, became this silent person who ignores me and my hands in public. People stared at us.

Along the way, I did a social experiment. A couple of guys who were making remarks about me in the MRT, and because I wanted to hear what they said, I acted Deaf and video called a friend. And as I signed, in full observation that I am Deaf, the two guys who seem to be interested in me earlier on, seem suddenly disinterested in me saying “Ah, she is Deaf” in a derogatory tone. That was a humbling experience. Imagine how the Deaf feels to be labeled as a Deaf. This comes from a deepest place in my heart. When you look around in the public, it is hard to identify who can’t hear, so it is usually neglected. And that is why I want to spread sign language so people will have an interest to learn just a little of sign language. This is to ease the isolation that the Deaf faces.

Puzzles is a café which was part of a school competition which was pitched as a business with social enterprise. We chose Deaf community as the beneficiary. We felt that this was a good starting point to educate the students in Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Puzzles engages youth a new way of eating pizza, and those who signs their order, will get a discount. This seems to have excited many students as they happily participate in signing their order and asking on the vision behind Puzzles. Puzzles is open to the public as well and unexpectedly, it has slowly reached out to people outside Ngee Ann.

Exploring further, Puzzles went around Singapore on a Silent Pledge for 4 hours. The purpose was for the hearing to experience what it is like to be Deaf and to try to do daily activities like ordering food, asking for directions etc. We learn that some hearing did not want to hear us out when there was a wrong order and simply gave us a drink to make us go away.

What if I offend them? What if there is a miscommunication? All these questions in our head, but have we taken the first step to communicate?

Suzana Slemat