Notetakers help the Deaf “hear” the world


Headline: Notetakers help the Deaf “hear” the world

Publication: Lianhe Zaobao
Date: 4 March 2018, Sunday
Reported by: Choy Xin Ying
Translated by: Jinhua Kuek

Standfirst: Mr Yeo Wei Yong has worked at the Singapore Association for the Deaf for nearly three years. To help the Deaf understand their lessons, he uses a laptop computer and a wireless keyboard to transcribe everything he has heard, including lesson contents and small group discussions.

As the other trainees sprinkle flour, knead dough and learn how to make bread in the kitchen, Mr Yeo Wei Yong sat alone at a corner, typing furiously to transcribe the instructions and important notes he had heard in class.

He was exceptionally attentive. He is not a trainee, but a Notetaker who helps the Deaf to “hear” the sounds of this world.

Mr Yeo, 33, said: “We bridge the gap between students and their instructors, transcribing the words and sentences that we hear so that they can understand what is going on in the class.”

It was his first time that he had a notetaking assignment in a kitchen since he started working at the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) nearly three years ago. Unlike typical classroom environments, the cooking instructor would move from table to table to check on the trainees and would sometimes gather all of them around a table. When this happens, Mr Yeo will then have to find himself a spot and type as he stands around.

The role of a Notetaker is to transcribe everything that he or she has heard, including the lecture contents, the conversations between the students and the lecturers, as well as small-group discussions. His tools are a laptop computer and a wireless keyboard, which may seem ordinary but are very important. A few Deaf students attending the same class can read the notes Mr Yeo had typed, using his Bluetooth keyboard, from the same laptop.

Mr Yeo also uses Google Docs to share his notes so that the students can read them on their computers. At the end of each lesson, he would reorganise his notes and update them with other information that were shown in class, such as tables and pictures. The task may seem simple but in order to take notes at ease, he would have to prepare and read the materials for every assignment in advance. He would also liven up the notes by adding Singlish words that the speakers use.

He said: “Auxiliary words such as ‘lah’, ‘leh’ and ‘lor’ can help students sense the teacher’s tone and this way, the notes would not be dull and lifeless.”
Mr Yeo has worked in different jobs but yearned to work in a Social Service Organisation as he is interested in sign language. He decided to become a full-time Notetaker in March 2015 when he saw the recruitment ad, even though he only had a basic knowledge of sign language then. “I wanted to contribute to the society with the skills I have,” he said.

One student that Mr Yeo has helped is Bryan Ang, 17. The second-year Nanyang Polytechnic student, who lost his hearing since young, applied for SADeaf’s notetaking service last year at the recommendation of his polytechnic’s special needs counsellor.

Before taking up the service, Bryan could not hear what was going on in the lesson clearly if the lecturer spoke softly or if there were other noises. Also, he did not ask questions in class as he was worried about the communication barrier with his lecturers. He now finds it much easier to interact with his peers and lecturers with the help of the Notetakers. “I am grateful for his (Mr Yeo’s) help. He made my learning easier and less stressful,” he said.

As a class may last for as long as two to three hours, Mr Yeo will ensure that he has breakfast and enough sleep so that he can concentrate and listen attentively. He also brings snacks such as cashew nuts to ease his mental fatigue.

Of course, not all notetaking assignments are smooth-sailing. The arts graduate once had to take notes for a bioorganic chemistry lesson. Due to the complexity of the topic and the thick accent of the lecturer, he had great difficulties doing so. “After class, I felt very guilty and apologised to the student I was helping,” he said.

SADeaf is recruiting Community Notetakers

SADeaf introduced this paid notetaking service since May 2014. Notetakers are matched to students based on the latter’s courses or needs. Most of the students are from the Institutes of Technical Education, polytechnics or universities.

Besides Mr Yeo, the association has another full-time Notetaker and about 12 Community Notetakers

SADeaf has also expanded its service areas in recent years. Executive Director Sylvia Teng pointed out that they also take notes for theatre performances, small group discussions and conferences so that Deaf audience members or working adults can understand the proceedings at the same time.

She said that the team is exploring to provide more notetaking services for schools. “We hope to leverage on technology to close the gap and solve issues faced by students daily.”

Teo Min Hui, 25, became an Community Notetaker as she wanted to communicate more with the Deaf and strengthen her abilities in sign language communication.

“I also gained some insights and no longer take the sense of hearing for granted. I guess this is my way of returning back to society,” she said.

Ms Teo has accumulated some experience since joining SADeaf in 2016, but can still never forget a mistake she made in her first assignment: “I lost my way in Temasek Polytechnic then and coincidentally, I met the student who sought my notetaking services. I wanted to ask him about the venue and so I called him loudly. But I later found out that his hearing aid was not turned on and he did not hear me at all.”

Being a Community Notetaker has broadened Ms Teo’s horizons and gave her opportunities to interact with different people in society. She hopes that her notetaking can help the Deaf be more confident in themselves and feel no different from hearing people.

SADeaf is currently recruiting Community Notetakers. Interested members of the public can visit or email for more information.

Photo caption: Mr Yeo Wei Yong’s role is to transcribe every word he has heard to let the Deaf understand class or meeting