From a "stubborn" child who would not listen to instructions, to enabling special needs clients to communicate via sign language, Tan Wei Ling, 32, has come a long way.
The volunteer-turned-staff has been working at TOUCH for over 4 years. Wei Ling is now a Lifeskills Coach with TOUCH Centre of Independent Learning (TCIL), where she is the main trainer in charge of teaching sign language to trainees with special needs.
But it was not all smooth sailing from the start. When her mentor from TOUCH first approached her about the role, she was not confident. "I thought to myself, how can a deaf person join this organisation?" Instead of joining as a staff, Wei Ling volunteered at TCIL and enjoyed interacting with the clients.
Conquering her apprehension
That was when she found the courage to join TOUCH as a staff. "At first, it was awkward", Wei Ling shared. As most of her friends are within the deaf community, working at TOUCH was the first time she interacted with many hearing people. "It was tough to hear everyone talking among themselves, and here I am, trying to understand what they were saying". Her colleagues soon noticed Wei Ling's struggles to hear them clearly despite wearing hearing aids. Understanding the situation, her colleagues at TCIL would intentionally face her when speaking, have more 1-to-1 conversations with her, and speak slower.
After working here for over 4 years, Wei Ling and her colleagues are now comfortable with this improved communication style.
An inclusive experience
It is not only Wei Ling's colleagues who showed patience and understanding. Her trainees with special needs also serve as her ears, and would go out of the way to help and protect Wei Ling.
For instance, there was once when Wei Ling did not hear a bicycle coming through from behind. Sensing the precarious situation, the trainees alerted her and brought her to safety. On a day-to-day basis, they will help call out to her whenever she does not hear her colleagues calling her.
"We are like an eco-system of care and love. The trainees are my ears, while I teach them how to communicate with their deaf friends through sign language," shared Wei Ling.
Living each day to its fullest
While she was affected by her deafness during her secondary school days, she is long past that stage. "I can simply switch off my hearing aids when my parents are nagging," shared Wei Ling with a smile. "I have accepted that I'm deaf. Even though I struggle to understand what others are speaking about, I still live my day to its fullest."