Deaf mum in Singapore: What it means to be Deaf in our society
Read the inspiring story of this deaf mum in Singapore who looked beyond her disabilities, and reached out for her dreams.
Being able to hear and communicate with our loved ones is something we always take for granted. We even scold our kids sometimes, for being ‘noisy’. But imagine a world without sounds, a world without your child’s voice and laughter, a world without the cacophony of birds – a world with just silence? A deaf mum in Singapore explains how it’s like living with the disability.
Meet mummy of 3, Charlene Wong. Charlene is Community Outreach Executive at TOUCH Silent Club. She is married to Alan Wong, who is a landscape project manager. Charlene and Alan have 3 children, Isacc (aged 12), Josiah (aged 7) and Hannah (aged 3).
Both Charlene and Alan are deaf, and, in Charlene’s words, “I have 2 hearing kids and 1 deaf kid.”
How is it to be deaf in our society and what is life like, as a deaf mum in Singapore? Charlene tells us…
Were you born hearing impaired? Do hearing issues run in the family?
Charlene tells us, “I was born deaf and I grew up in a deaf family with hearing grandparents. I can say that I had a happy childhood most of the time because there was a lot of support from the family and school.”
“My parents and brother are deaf and communication for us wasn’t a problem, as we shared the same language.”
“Despite being deaf, I do have a voice. But due to lack of training, I can’t speak and pronounce words properly.”
How was it growing up in Singapore with a disability? How did you cope up in school? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Says Charlene, “I started learning sign language from my parents. That was my first language since I was born.”
“I went to a deaf primary school where there was a group of deaf students, and the teachers would use signing to teach us. From there, my language development started to progress.”
“When it came to secondary school education, it was my first time integrating with “hearing classmates”. The hearing classmates saw me and my deaf friends signing and were curious about sign language.”
“They eventually learnt sign language from us. From there we made friends and they also helped to interpret for us during lessons. However there were resource teachers to help us through this education.”
“I faced more challenges when I moved on to polytechnic as there were no resource teachers. It was quite a fast-moving learning pace for me and I missed out quite a lot in the lecture setting.”
“There was information on slides but they were not sufficient for my learning, resulting in me lagging behind and having to work extra hard.”
“So I went to approach the lecturer personally to ask if he can give me extra lessons and he was willing to have extra classes for us – a group of deaf students. Also, I had to go to the library to get more information,” said the deaf mum in Singapore.
Have you ever been bullied or made fun of, because of your disability?
Charlene reveals, “There were some people who made fun of our language when I was chatting with my friends in sign language. They imitated us and made strange gestures out of sign language.”
“However, sign language is a language and we need it for communication like how others communicate through different languages and their mother tongues.”
“People have also avoided me because I’m deaf.”
My first job was a crew member at McDonalds during my secondary school days and I was assigned to the cashier counter where people usually order food. Some of the customers moved away to other counters to make orders, after realising that I was deaf. That really discouraged me.”
“Also, I would sometimes feel left out when seeing “normal” people chatting and not including me in their conversations. Because of that, I would have to take the initiative to ask what the conversation was about,” said the deaf mum in Singapore.
What were some challenges you faced after completing your studies? Was it difficult to find a job? How did you overcome your challenges?
Charlene tells us, “Finding a job was a challenge after I graduated from the polytechnic. I asked my grandfather and my husband’s mum to help call the companies that I was interested in, for applying for jobs. They rejected my application on the spot after finding out that I was deaf.”
“At interviews, companies would also ask if I could take phone calls. I told them I could not due to my hearing loss. They would apologise that they could not offer me the job as I could not take phone calls.”
“Job hunting was tough but I eventually managed to find jobs through my friends’ recommendations.”
How did you meet your husband?
Charlene, a deaf mum in Singapore, recalls, “I first met my husband at a charity concert in our primary school days and it was love at first sight. We officially started dating in polytechnic days.”
“My husband is also deaf so communication isn’t a problem between us. We have a great time communicating with each other as we share the same language!”
You said you have ‘2 hearing kids,and one deaf kid’. What challenges do you face while raising them?
Says Charlene, “It is quite tough to raise 3 kids as they are at their different stages, have different characters and interests.”
“It takes me and my husband a lot of effort to balance our attention among 3 kids and nurture them and bring out their best.”
“As my youngest daughter is deaf, I will teach my sons to call her by waving at her or tapping on her shoulder to get her attention. They can apply sign language or gestures which we usually use to communicate with one another.”
“I also explain to them that their sister may not understand what is going on and it would be good if they can repeat to their sister and be patient with her till she understands the whole picture.”
“Though raising 3 kids is challenging, I still find it a joy and very fulfilling!”
How does your youngest daughter (who is deaf) cope up with school and studies?
Charlene tells us, “She is quite young and is still happy in school despite not fully understanding what the teachers are teaching as they are speaking most of the time.”
“Her main mode of communication is sign language, but there is no such pre-school that offers bilingual education (including teaching in sign language) in Singapore.”
“To better support my daughter, I would usually teach her at home after my work.”
Do you ever get stared at in public when you communicate in sign language with the kids?
“Yes, I do.”
How and when did you decide to do your part to serve the ‘deaf’ community in Singapore?
Charlene, a deaf mum in Singapore, informs us, “I enjoy being able to make contributions to society and positively impacting the lives of others. Doing these things makes my life purposeful and fulfilling.”
“I first started volunteering with TOUCH Silent Club in 1998, when I was in polytechnic.” She added that she was a “volunteer tutor to deaf children and was also the emcee and part of the planning committee for community outreach events.”
Charlene eventually “became a staff of TOUCH.”
What advice do you have for parents of children with disabilities? How can they convert their challenges into their strengths?
Charlene, the deaf mum in Singapore, has this to share, “Work on the abilities that your child has, and help them strengthen their abilities, and bring out the best in them with your support.”
Thank you so much Charlene, for sharing your story with us. Mums like you inspire us to look beyond our disabilities, and to reach out for our dreams.
More than anything else, you inspire us to be grateful for what we have, and to treasure the simple joys in life, while we can.