The Hands that Speak

Singlish sign language videos, music shows, job creation for the deaf – ExtraOrdinary Horizons hopes to do great things with their hands. Lily Goh, founder of the social enterprise for the deaf, tells us more.

The recent news about a woman shouting at a deaf and mute cleaner to “go be a beggar” at the JEM food court highlights a discomfiting fact – there are still many who discriminate against the deaf in our society.

“Singapore does support the deaf, but there is very slow progress,” said Lily Goh, who was discovered to be deaf at the age of two.

To promote deaf awareness and debunk stereotypes about the deaf, Goh created ExtraOrdinary Horizons (EO Horizons) in 2011. The social enterprise now organises sign language classes and events integrating the deaf into the larger community. It aims to boost inclusivity in Singapore, so our deaf population can gain confidence in their abilities and be driven to lead fulfilling lives.

“I am not here to gather empathy, or for people to feel sorry for me. We are people who just want to live a happy life, [like] everyone else,” she said.

The 36-year-old is currently pursuing her degree in sociology at UNISIM. She was also the winner of the Singapore Woman Award in 2014, an award organised by MediaCorp that celebrates the extraordinary achievements of women in Singapore.


Challenging stereotypes

The courageous Goh became the first deaf person to join the Singapore Idol singing competition in 2004, to “realise [her] passion in song and performing”. This in turn opened up more opportunities for her as she started receiving requests to perform.

She now hopes to extend these opportunities to more members of the deaf community. The society, she believes, has marginalised a talented and skillful pool of citizens due to people’s limited notion of what the deaf can achieve.

“The deaf can do jobs like event management, social work and white-collar jobs, as some have graduated from tertiary institutions. Many people think that all the jobs created for the deaf, such as cleaning and delivery, are enough. It is not,” Goh said. She is eager to create a brighter future for the deaf community after her own struggles finding employment, when she had to settle for low-paying jobs.


Greater deaf awareness

Goh uses social media as her main platform to reach out to the public. The popularity of her social enterprise is clearly reflected in the 2,400 “followers” on EO Horizons’ Facebook page.

She is most proud of EO Horizons’ Instagram account, where her prospective students enjoy the engagement from her short-form video content as it teaches them localised slang signs, as well as basic sign language.

“We post every week, and up to three times a week. If there are no events for the first half of the year, we will post sign language related content. Our content is different from American sign language as we also have Singlish words like kaypoh,” she said.

EO Horizons’ YouTube channel has accumulated more than 60,000 views since its creation. The content centres on educational sign language tutorials, as well as original music and song signing videos.

Aside from its online footprint, EO Horizons has built up its own revenue source, comprising sign language courses, workshops, interpretation services, and collaborations with private companies and government agencies for music performances. It employs deaf people, as well as several hearing volunteers, and trains them.

Several collaborative projects with Youth Corps Singapore and Singing Chef are due in August. These include interpretation sessions, and music and song signing performances. In the future, they hope to introduce more sign language classes for the public.

EO Horizons was created to show the rest of the society that the hearing and the deaf have the same capabilities and potential. “I am like you,” Goh said. “We shouldn’t classify people… by their disabilities.

“Remember how the Singapore pledge goes, ‘as one united people, regardless of race, language’? Sign language is also a language. Singaporeans should change their mindsets, be more open-minded and see us as equal people.”


Draft by Rennes Lee Ting
Edited by Bernice Tang


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