By Mandy Wong (22S03C) and Mirella Ang (22A01C)
“…I’m deaf!” says Hee Ker Ru (22A13B), tilting her head to the right, as she usually does whenever we talk about well… anything. If it wasn’t clear by now, Ker Ru is deaf, though her hearing in her right ear is a lot better than in her left. But to her, this isn’t something that holds her back—it’s just what her reality is like, the only reality she’s ever known.
We wanted to find out more about the deaf community in RI, so we sat down with Ker Ru and her friends, Aditya Mahajan (22S03J) (who goes by Hua Qian) and Lin Bohan (22S03K), to listen to their experiences in school.
1. Tell us about your disability.
Ker Ru: It’s like putting on a pair of headphones every day—except they don’t play music and no one sees it. It’s a muffled feeling, and no one told me I was deaf until I actually asked my parents. After that, a lot of things made sense. People would ask me if I heard something and I would go, “Huh?”
Bohan: I have two cochlear implants, and if they’re disconnected I can’t hear. I had hearing aids from way back: my right one from when I was one year old and my left one from four or five years old. I could always somewhat hear, and I never really asked my parents why I had them.
Hua Qian: My right ear is worse than my left. My parents never really knew despite conducting hearing tests. They only realised in Primary 5 when they found out I was listening to music and couldn’t hear on one side, while I had always thought that was normal. They thought I had hit my head or something and had some MRI scans done. It just shows that even your “normal” can be “abnormal” for others. My parents were very upset and felt guilty about it. Meanwhile, I just thought, “No wonder I could sleep so soundly.”
2. What is it like living with your disability?
Ker Ru: To us, it’s just normal. When I talk to people, I will either pull them over to walk on my right or go to their left. It’s gotten to the point where people actually make it a habit.
Hua Qian: I walk to their side too, and they give me a weird look before remembering.
Bohan: That only happens to me when I’m too lazy to turn on one side of my implants. If we’re talking about a routine, I take out my hearing aids when I want to study hard.
Hua Qian: I say “What?” a lot.
Bohan: If I don’t catch what people say sometimes, I just nod my head and go “yeah, yeah.” Then maybe after 1 minute what they say pops up and I belatedly respond.
3. Are there any major struggles as a student that you have faced?
Ker Ru: Well, we can’t hear. I really love to hear, especially when listening to music. Sometimes when an opera singer belts out a high note, the note cuts off and that makes me really angry.
Another struggle would be how this is an invisible disability. Most places are not sign language-friendly, even with an interpreter. You have to go out of your way to tell someone—otherwise people assume you’re rude or stupid.
A lot of people also don’t believe me when I tell them about my disability, just because I get along very well with people. They think it’s a binary—where you either can hear or can’t—but I’m not entirely deaf. Some actually try to argue with me and convince me what my disability is!
When they do believe me though, they treat me like a baby… though it could just be that I look very much like one.
Bohan: My hearing issue is more cochlear-specific. I can’t hear sounds that come out of devices very well because of their mechanical quality.
I actually played softball from Y1-4 and my hearing aids have fallen off during a game. If other players had stepped on the cable then yeah GG but surprisingly that never happened. When I’m making a play and it falls out I just don’t care though.
Hua Qian: People go, “Oh you’re deaf? Okay, so anyways…” which I like, actually. I agree that explaining it to everyone is a real pain. I like to just hint at it because saying so explicitly feels self-important, even though it’s relevant.
In video games, I can only hear one side—so it’s so hard to tell where the gunshots are coming from! It’s the same in real life: it’s annoying not knowing where someone is calling me from. I can, though, know where something is by the vibrations, especially for thunder.
It also affects your sense of balance. According to the International Biomedical Quiz, balance is affected by something in your inner ear. It depends on the type. The issue could be the middle of the ear in the bones, in the inner ear with the cochlea and the hairs, or in the nervous system.
Ker Ru: My advice is, if you want to get the attention of a deaf person, just stomp. Don’t yell at us.
Hua Qian: Yeah, it’s embarrassing to have people yell in public. If I can feel the vibrations from your yelling, you might as well just tap!
4. What support have you received from the school?
Hua Qian: I get a free ticket to the front row. I don’t think any of my teachers know, or at least they don’t make it apparent (they all have been very nice about it if they do know), which I don’t mind. And if I don’t hear, I’ll just ask “what?” until they get annoyed.
Bohan: Yeah, I sit in the front row, but I think I belong in the back row because I’m tall. It’s school policy for teachers to know, for my case but I generally don’t need help. Sometimes teachers like to camp out in my class, so when I’m eating I just *takes off hearing aids* and when I need to listen I just *puts them back in*.
Ker Ru: The school has been really nice! For PSLE Listening Comprehension I didn’t have any accommodations—so when I got to secondary school I wanted my rights down. They do have allowances, like I got to skip O-Level oral. But it’s difficult because you can’t see [my disability].
Mrs Lydia Tan took me out one day after class and asked if there was anything she could do for me, so I wrote her a list of things like captions for lectures and she did it! Ms Eva Hor was really nice about it too, and Ms Rathiga Veerayan edits the captions to make them match perfectly line-by-line. Sometimes I need to bug teachers about captions on Panopto lectures but that’s about it. Also, some teachers speak way too softly so I have to raise the volume really high.
Hua Qian: Yeah, I have to keep increasing the volume and slowing down the lectures, because when a video speeds up, it becomes softer and softer. Wait, there are captions?
Ker Ru: Yes, you have to click on the button!
Bohan: I think it’s more about the frequencies because it’s harder to hear higher pitches. But today was the day I also learned that there were captions on Panopto lectures.
5. What are some connections you have made as a result of your disability?
Ker Ru: The deaf community in Singapore is a very rich community but [able-bodied people] lump everyone in together! Like [disabled people] have just been lumped into Pathlight School. The three of us have become better friends though.
Deaf accommodations are not really available [in Singapore], but there is solidarity when one deaf person meets another deaf person. In RGS, they held a Human Library once and invited a deaf speaker to come, but they didn’t have any accommodation for her and she had no interpreter for the whole thing! I ended up frantically signing to her from across the hall.
Hua Qian: I’m not sure if we would have gotten as close as we did if we knew we were deaf, but we did also bond through art. We actually only discovered we were all deaf once when I was standing next to Bohan and I asked him, “Did you hear what I said?” and he said, “No, I’m deaf” and I was like, “I’m deaf too!”. We also once tried to yell at each other through glass.
Bohan: I know mostly the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) deaf community because there’s a specific centre there and we arrange get-togethers. I go there and see some stuff they put up and sometimes I get interviewed for features! I helped my parents make friends there when I was 3 years old too.
Ker Ru: Yeah, and there’s a community with an orange website called Social Group of the Deaf! Plus, the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers is giving out scholarships for people who are deaf, which is really useful.
We would like to thank Ker Ru, Bohan and Hua Qian for letting us learn more about them!
If you are interested in learning ASL (dubbed “the easiest language ever” by Ker Ru), head over to this video: