Today, I began a new journey.
I started a course "Introduction to the Deaf Community, Culture and Language" organised by the Singapore Association for the Deaf.
It is a course that I have been interested in for some time, especially since I have a sister who is deaf. As she gets older, I am finding it difficult to communicate with her and the only way for me to bridge this is to take some personal responsibility to understand her mode of communication better.
What kept causing me to postpone this decision was the distance of the school where such courses are conducted. It would take about two hours of travelling time between the school and home.
Last year, NTUC Income introduced a SkillsSave initiative for its employees. The beauty of this initiative is that each individual gets up to $3,000 over three years to pursue courses that he or she is interested in. Such courses are independent of training initiatives relevant to one's function which NTUC Income sponsors, that is they need not be work-related.
The employee can also take up to 5 days of self-selected learning leave, which is in addition to one's annual leave, to pursue such programmes.
Key programmes such as sign language courses are specially brought into the workplace and doing so helps cut unnecessary travelling time for employees.
This is important for an organisation like NTUC Income. We have begun to employ persons from minority communities such as the blind, deaf or those without limbs in a big way. For example, some of our office support work is undertaken by deaf people, and our research surveys are carried out by blind persons.
One of the more useful takeaways from this course for me was how deaf persons celebrate success. They raise their arms and wave their hands, rather than clap. But my deaf sister has been, as part of her own efforts to understand the hearing community, clapping her hands like we do.
For me, that realisation was important in strengthening my resolve to communicate with her better. If she can adapt to the hearing community, I don't see why those that hear and care for her cannot adapt to her.
After all, one of the things that the deaf community shared with me is that they do not consider being hard of hearing a disability. To them, this is a strength since sign language - as a growing body of research shows - is a fascinating language in itself. And, at least in this part of the world, English is the deaf community's second language.
I came home to practise some of what I had learnt with my sister. I showed her my notes. She was beaming from ear to ear.
I told her I will soon be starting to learn sign language and she will now be my teacher while I her student. She was ecstatic!
More people can make special efforts to understand minorities in our society.