One Small Voice: Lily Goh

Published on 11 May 2015

The arts can afford to be more inclusive of people with disabilities, says Deaf musician and social entrepreneur Lily Goh.

The cast of Tribes at Pangdemonium asked me many questions — about my experience being Deaf and on how their characters should behave — when I was teaching them Sign Language (SL) in preparation for their production. Tribes revolves around a family with a deaf son, Billy. The script explores themes of communication, identity and belonging.

When I was working with Thomas [Pang, who plays Billy], I explained to him that learning SL in a classroom setting and direct from the community is very different. Since Billy learnt through immersion in Sylvia’s [played by Ethel Yap] Deaf world, he would have learnt more and faster. He also needs to express more as picking up SL this way forces you to be very expressive.

Billy can also mouth words as he signs. Because his character can speak, he doesn’t need to strictly follow the ways of Deaf people who don’t use voice but rely solely on SL. It’s a misconception that all Deaf people can sign. Some can’t sign, but can speak. Some do both. I think Tribes is a good start for Singapore to know more about us because we’re very hidden. If you look at me, you can’t tell that I have a an impediment — I look just like you.

It’s sad that not many theatre or arts groups reach out to Deaf people. Most shows don’t include an interpreter or surtitles. This automatically excludes us.

As an artist, I have performed song-signing and percussion music at the Asian Festival of Inclusive Arts in Cambodia, and represented Singapore at the ASEAN Festival of Disabled Artists in Myanmar. I’ve seen how the arts can cater to many types of disabilities: they built ramps for those with physical disabilities, paired the blind with a buddy, and included an interpreter on stage for the deaf, who have a designated space near the stage so that they can see the interpreter.

These are usually Category 1 seats and the most expensive. As such, many arts groups won’t want to set them aside for those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. But Pangdemonium and Marina Bay Sands have subsidised these seats at Tribes performances incorporating SL, so that the Deaf community can buy them at a good discount.

At ExtraOrdinary Horizons, a social enterprise I founded, our vision is to create an inclusive society where the deaf can gain confidence in their abilities through the arts, SL and entrepreneurship.

We teach Deaf adults handicraft-making skills and how to promote their products, which they sell at flea markets. The money goes into their pockets. We’re not a charity. Besides handicrafts, our percussion band has been engaged to perform at public spaces and private events.

We always require organisers to pay us. In the past, companies didn’t pay us and we felt used, like puppets. If they treat us like a circus show, I don’t want to work with them. We want to work with organisations that truly support and empower us. I think it’s time we earn something for what we’ve worked so hard to put out there.

I hope the Singapore arts scene can be more inclusive. I hope we can work together to see how we can create greater access for people with disabilities, so that we can also participate and contribute.

Lily Goh is the founder and director of ExtraOrdinary Horizons, a social enterprise that aims to empower the Deaf community in Singapore through the arts, Sign Language (SL) and entrepreneurship. Goh is a performing artist who plays the xylophone, marimba and other percussion instruments. She has performed at the 2008 Asian Festival of Inclusive Arts in Cambodia, and represented Singapore for the 2014 ASEAN Festival of Disabled Artists in Myanmar. She continues to teach percussion music, song-signing and SL to the deaf. Goh is the recipient of MediaCorp’s Singapore Woman Award 2014.

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