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Derrick Wee (middle) tells us about the importance of sign language for his family. Photo: Derrick Wee

The Message Of Love Rings Loud And Clear For This Guy With Deaf Parents

In the video above, Derrick Wee and his parents Joyce and Andrew sign "Hello! We are the Wee family. Be safe, everyone!"

And their message comes on a very special day: Today (23 September) is the International Day of Sign Languages, a day proclaimed by the UN General Assembly to commemorate the date of the founding of the World Federation of the Deaf in 1951.

Cool fact: did you know that there are approximately 72 million deaf people worldwide and that, collectively, they use over 300 different sign languages. (And, yes, there's a Singapore Sign Language, too, or SgSL for short. In fact, you can sign up for a course conducted by the Singapore Association for the Deaf. Also check out the video on "Signs for COVID-19-related words in Singapore Sign Language" at the end of this article.)

First celebrated in 2018, the International Day of Sign Languages aims to "raise awareness of the importance of sign language in the full realization of the human rights of people who are deaf".

Nyle DiMarco, a deaf activist, disability advocate and the winner of "America's Next Top Model" Cycle 22 in 2015, shares more about this day of observance:

The importance of sign language for this family

Today, we also want to throw the spotlight on the extraordinary Wee family, and speak to 29-year-old Derrick, a crisis response specialist with Airbnb, who believes that using body language to communicate with his parents has resulted in the strong bonds within the family.

Because phone calls are not possible, face time for the Wee's is an essential part of communication. But that can also lead to frequent communication breakdowns, especially when Derrick cannot reach his parents when they're working - his dad works at a manufacturing company, while his mum works in the kitchen of a Thai restaurant.

"Sometimes, my parents get misunderstood by others and get bullied because of that, which makes me angry. So I’m very protective of them. Even so, sometimes, it’s hard to explain certain things to them using sign language," says Derrick, who often worries for his parents and gets very uncomfortable when people stare at them for using sign language to communicate with each other in public.

Growing up quickly and learning virtues

You might wonder how deaf parents discipline their children. Well, according to Derrick, the way his parents disciplined his elder brother (Darren, a bodybuilder champ) and him was no different than the way other parents did.

"They would shout and scream at us. Though they can’t speak, they are able to project sound although it is unclear," says Derrick.

"When we were younger, they would cane us - my dad would take the cane and go and look for us downstairs! My parents handled my brother and me the same way other parents would with their children."

But the two brothers had to grow up fast. Because their parents didn't earn much, the siblings had to learn to be independent and worked hard to pay for things including their own school fees.

They learnt the virtue of patience through having to explain things slowly to their parents and writing simple explanations and notes in English. This would include teaching their parents administrative processes like signing documents and paying bills, and learning how to use a smart phone, and even how to vote.

Can a close family get even closer during a pandemic?

"I would say there has been some tension," Derrick admits. "Thankfully, both my parents still have their jobs, so nothing much has changed. Even so, I have to keep them updated on the latest COVID-19-related news, what should be done or what should be avoided."

"The toughest part? Teaching them how to check in and out by scanning the QR code - that was a real pain hahaha!"

Now, isn't that something a lot of us can identify with?

And maybe you can pick up some simple, relevant sign language from this informative video on "Signs for COVID-19-related words in Singapore Sign Language" by the Singapore Association for the Deaf:

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