Chef and teacher among those who share how they overcame hearing loss

(From left) Mr David Lee, a specialised teacher at Mayflower Primary School; Mr Ken Tan, who runs his own food stall; and Mr Muhammad Ammar Nasrulhaq Abdul Karim, a choreographer and instructor with Redeafination, a hip-hop group for the deaf, were a
(From left) Mr David Lee, a specialised teacher at Mayflower Primary School; Mr Ken Tan, who runs his own food stall; and Mr Muhammad Ammar Nasrulhaq Abdul Karim, a choreographer and instructor with Redeafination, a hip-hop group for the deaf, were among four presenters who spoke at the Singapore Association for the Deaf's virtual sharing sessions about their experience of not letting their hearing loss hold them back in life.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Deaf since birth, Mr Ken Tan struggled to find work until he got a job washing dishes in a kitchen when he was 19.

He threw himself into his work, gaining experience at establishments such as Ajisen Ramen, Blackbird Group and Etto, and slowly rose through the ranks, going from commis chef to head chef.

This year, Mr Tan, 39, struck out on his own to realise his dream of running his own food outlet, opening a stall selling crispy prawn-paste chicken wings at Toh Guan Centre.

The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) marked Singapore Sign Language Week last month with virtual sharing sessions featuring Mr Tan and three other presenters who spoke about their experience of not letting their hearing loss hold them back.

Like Mr Tan, Ms Vanessa Chea, 23, also had to overcome challenges after she suffered from mild hearing loss as a toddler.

After graduating from Temasek Polytechnic with a diploma in pharmaceutical science in 2018, she was accepted into Nanyang Technological University's biological sciences programme.

But her hearing worsened and she could not use her hearing aids.

Ms Chea took a gap year from university and underwent cochlear implant surgery. Last year, she resumed her university studies as a freshman.

On how Singapore society can be more inclusive towards deaf people, she said: "Different people have different degrees of hearing loss and prefer different modes of communication. Some may prefer sign language while others are fine with reading lips and speaking orally.

"People must remember that hearing loss does not equate to intellectual disability."

For teacher David Lee, he took a longer route to realising his dream of becoming an educator.

 
 
 

The 51-year-old specialised teacher at Mayflower Primary School has been deaf since birth.

When he was first diagnosed as a toddler, his mother attended sign language class at SADeaf at night after her work and taught it to his two older siblings.

He became an engineer after graduating from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 1992, but was laid off during the financial crisis in 1997. It was then that he decided to pursue a career in teaching, which he had been interested in since being inspired by a deaf teacher in his primary school.

Mr Lee said: "I thought to myself, 'Wow, he can sign so well. He can narrate many stories so well'."

He took on a full-time teaching job with the Singapore School for the Deaf in 2002 while pursuing his teaching qualification from the National Institute of Education.

Eighteen years on, Mr Lee said he sees growing inclusiveness in schools here, with note-takers who assist deaf students with transcription and sign language interpreters from SADeaf helping deaf students in mainstream schools and tertiary institutions.

"To support full inclusiveness in the Singapore society, we have a long way to go. These days, things are better for the deaf students who are in institutes of higher learning.

"Last year, I conducted the sign language course for the Primary 1 and 2 cohorts. Now they still greet me in sign language with a simple sign - 'Hi'," he said.

From an early age, Mr Muhammad Ammar Nasrulhaq Abdul Karim has been drawn to dance and expressing himself through movement.

 
 

Mr Ammar, 28, who lost his hearing after a high fever when he was an infant, started freelancing as a dancer in 2010. "My difficulties initially prevented me from dancing to the beat. But I discovered that my sense of sight was heightened, and through the use of the dancer's movement, I was able to keep myself in time with the music," he said.

He has been dancing for more than a decade and is now a choreographer and instructor with Redeafination, a hip hop group for the deaf.

He hopes to inspire other deaf artists through his work.

"I can only hope that through my art, everyone is able to see my talent first, then my disability."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2020, with the headline 'Chef and teacher among those who share how they overcame hearing loss'. Print Edition | Subscribe