SINGAPORE: When Ms Vanessa Chea sat for an exam in Temasek Polytechnic where she studied till a year ago, a lecturer asked if she needed extra time to complete the paper.
It was tempting for her to grab the advantage, but Ms Chea who is hard of hearing, declined.
“I just see myself like anybody else,” she told CNA.
Her hearing difficulties do not affect her ability to think, something she feels not everyone knows.
“I noticed that people tend to associate hearing loss with intellectual disability,” she said.
People also tend to think they needed to shout if someone cannot hear well, but this just hampers her ability to lip-read, she said.
While she has mastered lip-reading, she said: “When you shout, the lip shape is very different from what you are saying, and that makes reading very difficult.”
Even if they do not have such misconceptions, they may not empathise with her condition.
Ms Chea recalled having a lecturer who refused to use a device that would help her hear better in class.
“She found that it is not a good thing for me to depend too much on technology,” she said.
Ms Chea ended up not being able to follow her lessons.
She has also had peers take advantage of her hearing loss to claim credit for her work, Ms Chea said.
CUTTING THROUGH THE NOISE
Her struggles fade into the background when she is looking through the lens of a camera.
Born the middle child to avid photographer parents, Ms Chea initially did not like the hobby.
“I thought it was all about just pressing the shutter button and the picture coming out,” she said
But her view changed after attending a workshop with a professional landscape and nature photographer who displayed photos taken in scenic New Zealand.
Then 14 years old and a member of the Digital Media Club at Saint Anthony’s Canossian Secondary, she started appreciating the hobby.
“When I started taking photos, I realised that the process of taking photos is quite challenging and tiring, because not only do you need to have a keen eye for it, you also need to learn to be fully prepared for whatever weather conditions,” she said.
FROM NOT LIKING PHOTOGRAPHY TO WINNING AWARDS
She focused on mastering the techniques and started reaping the rewards soon enough. Ms Chea won the first time she entered a photography competition. She realised that the outcome could be different if she had not rushed from her class and arrived in time to an interview for shortlisted participants.
“So can you imagine how close I was to not getting the prize?” she asked.
The photos she submitted made it to a display at the National Museum, she said with pride.
The win was no fluke. She won in another photo competition, this time with pictures taken at the Supertree Grove at Gardens By The Bay, her favourite spot.
“I prefer to take photos where there are not much people around, because it allows me to appreciate the nature, have some quiet time on my own,” she said animatedly.
Ms Chea has taken some risks to get the perfect shot. Once, she slipped on a rock, and another time, she stood undeterred as thunder rumbled and lightning flashed while others were scrambling for shelter.
“Afterwards it poured. It was challenging. But when I see the photo, I am proud of it,” she said.
Her family used to worry because she would often visit remote places to take photos.
“They worry that with my hearing loss, I would not be aware of the dangers around me,” But Ms Chea’s other senses are heightened, and she is more careful to make up for what she cannot hear, she said.
She also suffers a little for her art, getting back pain from walking around with her DSLR hanging from her neck, and blisters on her feet.
It was a relief then when she managed to get funding for a new, lighter camera through the Mediacorp Enable Fund. A social worker at Temasek Polytechnic had suggested that she apply for it.
“My family is financially stable, but I find it painful to see my parents spend so much money for my education, my hearing needs, and I just don’t want to trouble them further. I don’t want to be a financial burden, so I decided to apply,” she said.
She added that in photography, having the right equipment is very important.
“Having the right gear and equipment will allow me to achieve my vision better,” she said.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY NEW THINGS
Things are looking up for Ms Chea in other areas as well.
Having undergone a cochlear implant earlier this year, she hears much better now.
She will also be starting university education this month, after having to postpone it due to her hearing problems.
Having once been someone who was not confident enough to try new things, Ms Chea had advice for anyone who might feel uninspired: “Time waits for no man, so don’t be too afraid of trying new things. Trying something out of your comfort zone is a good thing.”
Ms Chea is a beneficiary of the Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF), a charity fund by Mediacorp and SG Enable that aims to build a society where persons with disabilities are recognised for their abilities and lead full and socially integrated lives. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is its patron.