Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and experiences!

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Breaking The Sound Barrier (Part 2)

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Breaking the SOUND barrier. Because there is NO you or them.

Through my NTU mentees, a journalist from TODAY came to knew about this project, and approached me to seek my inputs on questions he had about employment for deaf Singaporeans today.

1. What were some of the difficulties you faced during job hunt as someone who is hard of hearing? What was some of the feedback, or comments you heard from prospective employers? Has that changed, why or why not?
My response:
First and foremost, I am not born totally deaf. Hence I am not deaf mute.
I am born with a dead right ear, which means I still go to normal schools communicating with people with my left ear until the days when I was a student of ITE Bishan when I had bacterial infection in my left ear. As such I have to wear a hearing aid.
I am effectively bilingual. I can talk to anyone normally.
I did a cochlear implant surgery on my right ear in 2011.
At that point of time, I somehow knew that it will be MORE challenging, should I apply for jobs in future.
I am thankful that SG Enable and SPD employment support division provides me help.
Often in my younger days, I struggled with the dilemma of making my condition known in my CV to be submitted to employers. Because I am worried – Will it blow my chances of being granted a job interview? Being older now, I am more accepting of my disability and thus making it known in my job applications.
Frankly speaking, till today I hesitate to include phone numbers in job applications because what if I could not hear the recruiters well over the phone? Unless the mode of contact is via mobile text messaging.
Having said so, I still have to be honest about my hearing problem.
Interview sessions are for both parties to find out more about each other pertaining the job opening.
My method is – I try to be more comfortable, and perceive the potential employer “as a friend”, which it takes away the stress of “trying too hard to impress the other party”, and just be myself. The other party would also feel more comfortable. Words will come out freely and naturally. If the other party wishes to converse in Mandarin, I am able to switch effortlessly.
I try to do some small talk first to find something in common between us.
Once there is a common interest, there is rapport built and mood becomes more relaxing.
For sure, I must of course do some research on the employer before attending the interview so that I am able to answer his questions.
This is what I learnt from my journalism module when I studied Mass Communications at MDIS. The interview technique.
I guess, the little advantage which I think I have over other Singaporeans with similar condition is that, I can talk things upfront with employers during job interviews, telling them what I can or cannot do, things which interest me, my working style, experiences which I hope to gain etc.
The first question I always asked, is about communication aspect.
Questions like – Are you open to giving work instructions via emails or whatsapp? How often should we communicate face-to-face?
The feedback I got from employers, often is that “you look normal okay”, “you worry too much”, “nothing to worry about communication part since we can have a normal conversation like this”.
If I do not get the job, I would rather choose to think that I don’t fit the requirements than about my hearing disability. 
I don’t cry over spill milk. I just move on.
I sit down, reflect and do something about my employability skills.
This year I intend to upgrade myself academically so that I can deepen my existing knowledge and skills.
The most important thing is, the deaf individual should display a keen interest to learn something new and be humble.
Having that can-do spirit.
2. What do you think employers today should change, in terms of hiring deaf persons, or persons who are hard of hearing? 
My response:
Like able-bodied Singaporeans, the deaf community have various talents and abilities.
Very often we Singaporeans tend to look at people, passing judgement first on what they cannot do. These days, we become very critical of others.
I urge everyone including employers to look at surrounding people on what they can do first.
This is the biggest take-away I gain, from my previous job at a social enterprise, interacting with special needs workers.
If we give them opportunities, they might surprise you sometimes. Many of them could be raw diamonds, having innate potential to go far in life.
There is always a solution to every problem, if we are willing to pause, and think harder.
Be open-minded.
Be willing to learn the various communication modes with the deaf and hard-of-hearing such as simple sign-language or using Whatsapp (thanks to mobile technology).
They cannot hear well. They are very visual. Employers can give simple instructions in the form of pictures.
Work processes can be redesigned in a way that these deaf employees can do what they are required to do, bypassing their limitations. 
A little job stress is however essential, to make them grow. No pain, no gain.
If they do something well, praise them publicly for job well done. This will further boost their self-confidence.
Best still after sometime, employer can send them for skills-grading courses to enhance their competencies and self-dignity; and with skills certification, they can command a higher take-home pay.
We also need more deaf role models to be highlighted in mass media.
Sharing their stories of how they overcome odds to become what they are today.
This is to change the perceptions of the deaf community in the eyes of employers and Singaporeans alike.

Singapore should be truly an inclusive society where we really LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND.

Let’s lift every Singaporean up together. 

3. Why do you think employers might not be overly keen on hiring deaf people? 
My response:
Very often I believe some employers might think that “they cannot hear, cannot listen to work instructions, need to always look after them, as such they cannot make it.”
Or they might perceive that all members of deaf community are lowly educated, have bad attitudes, cannot handle a single job well.
This is a very flawed perception of them. They can be further trained.
Many of them are nice people.
As such, “Breaking the Sound Barrier” project initiated by Wong Jia Rong and his team aims to correct any misconceptions about the deaf, hoping employers across all sectors in Singapore understand that these special Singaporeans have employable qualities too.
The only little issue is – they cannot hear you well.

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Breaking The Sound Barrier (Part 1)

It has been several months since I rejoined Young ChangeMakers 2.0 at National Youth Council, as a YCM project curator aka mentor.

I am presently the YCM Project Mentor behind a group of enthusiastic undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

The team is planning a campaign, titled “Breaking the Sound Barrier”, which hopes to help the deaf community in Singapore.

1 out of every 1,000 babies born in Singapore have severe or profound hearing loss, and the team found themselves being drawn to this issue and hence, would like to do something for the deaf Singaporeans.

The main partner of this project, Singapore Association of the Deaf (SADeaf) has served the deaf community for over 61 years. To the team, it has highlighted the problem of deaf Singaporeans having difficulty in searching and getting jobs despite having the same qualifications as others. As such, there is an increasing importance to help create an inclusive workplace environment for the deaf.

The objectives of this 7-month campaign are:

  1. to heighten awareness among employers of the potential of deaf community as ABLE employees,
  2. to change employers’ perceptions towards hiring the deaf,
  3. to encourage more local employers to hire the deaf.

The key message here is; to break employment barriers for deaf Singaporeans – they can be valuable employees and excellent contributors to our workorce.

The deaf are just like you and me.

By supporting and dispensing advice to this project, I am indirectly helping similar Singaporeans like myself. Therefore, I stepped forward to be their mentor, offering help.


Presently the team is carrying out a survey to better understand the current situation.

I will be very grateful if you could help us to spread word about this online survey to people in your network connections, of whom you know who are managers, particularly Human Resource personnel, or anyone involved in the hiring procedures.

Responses are kept 100% confidential, and the information collated will be very helpful to this campaign.

Here is the Breaking the Sound Barrier – Online Survey

I hope you can assist us, in helping this group of Singaporeans, building a more inclusive Singapore.

Thank you very much! 🙂


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The NTU Graduation Ceremony Saga

This took place at a graduation ceremony held at Nanyang Technological University last Friday 29 July 2011 . Particularly for the 2011 graduating cohort of students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information. The 14th Graduation Ceremony.

Ms Chong Chiao Sing Trinetta, 23 years old, a major in Public Relations and Communication Research who now works at a government statutory board, have been chosen to deliver a valedictorian speech on stage. At the end of her speech, she congratulated her peers and shockingly added this – > “We f***king made it!!”

Oh my goodness!

She may be someone from the Generation Y, but this is definitely no excuse for her for doing so.

When interviewed by Straits Times paper yesterday, Ms Chong said that she is sorry. She further said that it has never been her intention to sensationalise her speech, or offending anyone in the course of delivering the speech. Looking back, she said she realised it have been inconsiderate to make the remark at the graduation ceremony attended by professors, deans, and parents. She is now concerned about possible repercussions.

NTU Assistant Professor Mark Centite defended her. He said, “If you see the video in context, you will know she wasn’t trying to be offensive. It was an expression of exhilaration.”

Yes I may agree with that but I don’t think it means that we can condone her action. I mean, can’t Ms Chong think of another proper word to substitute the word “f***”????

NTU Associate Professor Cherian George however said that valedictorians have the honour of speaking on behalf of their entire cohort, and the chosen ones usually take this responsibility to their peers very seriously. “We have had amazing speeches in the past. It is a pity that this one grabbed attention for the wrong reasons. It is an occasion shared with family members and the F-word isn’t exactly family-friendly. The incident was not monumental enough to spoil a special occasion, but it was inconsderate.”


I was a mass commmunications student graduated from Marketing Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS).

I agree to a certain extent that communications students tend to be more expressive, in terms of describing their thoughts or viewpoints. But I have been taught/trained to be always mindful of what I say or behave in public, especially at formal events. Be sensitive. Know who are your audience. Think and pause a while even before you intend to say the word. Use good impressionable words, NOT expletives. I think a good example used is “Change” by US President Obama.

And in addition, as compared to say, 5 years ago, these days there are more people using digital media tools such as digital cameras with filming function/smart phones with video function to “record events” with easy access to upload stuff on cyberspace, not restricting to media personnel. People present at the graduation ceremony may be filming her delivering the valedictorian speech. Ms Chong should have been well-aware of that.

Okay, I am aware that there are some young Singaporeans out there (especially those born in the late 1990s or early 2000s) who might rebut and say “Hey, this is no big deal ok. Why do you people get so worked up over the matter?”

Boys and girls, call me old-fashioned if you want to.

I still hold onto this firm belief today that when we are in front of others, in whatever event settings, we should always think before we say. Use appropriate wordings. Because once the word is out, the act is irreversible. And like it or not, once we sprout out an expletive word in a not-so-proper context, people whom do not know us personally would tend to judge/view us negatively. And it is furthermore our Asian value that most of us have been brought up and been taught by our parents – “Do not use any vulgar language in front of teachers/elders/parents/bosses. It looks bad on you right in front of others.”

Let us also be aware that some people may be quite unforgiving – not willing to change the inital bad first impression they have towards us. These people include potential employers who may have the intention to hire us.

To quote a comment by a good friend of mine pertaining this incident — You don’t have to use F-word to show your excitement. There is a tinge difference between coolness and impoliteness. This brings nothing but shame to your school.

An NTU official spokeperson has also spoken that Ms Chong has already apologised to Chairperson of Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information, Associate Professor Benjamin Hill Detender, both in person and in writing.

Lastly on a final ending note, let’s just hope that Ms Chong’s current statutory board employer will not judge her negatively, accept her reason that it was “that moment itself, on impulse, she regrettably used the word to express her emotion.”