Man who lip-reads during lessons graduates with NTU engineering degree

Man who lip-reads during lessons graduates with NTU engineering degree
EARLY STRUGGLES: Mr Jeremiah Oon developed profound hearing loss after a high fever when he was only three years old.
PHOTO: The New Paper

He struggled to keep up in class, as it was not easy trying to read the lips of his lecturers.

Yet, Mr Jeremiah Oon had no choice. He also had to depend heavily on his classmates for notes and seek extra help after school.

The 27-year-old is not a poor or lazy student.

He developed profound hearing loss at the age of three after suffering a high fever.

By the age of six, he had gradually lost his ability to speak clearly.

Hearing aids only help with environmental sounds so Mr Oon's communication is done through lip-reading, writing or sign language.

Yet, he refuses to let such challenges drag him down.

Last month, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in engineering (computer science) from Nanyang Technological University.

He now works at computer support and technology company Acceltus where he develops websites and intranet portals for corporations.

Typing out the answers to The New Paper's questions on a laptop for this interview, he said: "Some lecturers could not provide me with extra notes, although they added extra information on the whiteboard. It is harder without a note-taking service or sign language interpreter available. I depended heavily on textbooks for information."

His condition has also made it difficult to adapt to social situations.

Mr Oon admitted it is sometimes hard not to feel left out among his classmates and friends.

He said: "At times, they would ignore my request to interpret what someone had just said. I would love to know what a joke was about or what the conversation was about... But I ended up feeling excluded.

"I don't get angry. It is not easy to encourage people to be patient with me. But as long as I feel happy in their company, it doesn't bother me."

The two-time Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship holder owes his positive attitude to his family - his father, 62, a construction company driver; his mother, 52, a housewife; and his sister Geraldine Oon, 25, a technical executive with Jurong Town Corporation.

"We are extremely close and communicate frequently. I share a lot of things with them, especially with my younger sister," he said.

Miss Oon described her brother as self-reliant and confident from a very young age.

She said: "I try to be there from him as much as I can but it is Jeremiah who taught me so much about patience and perseverance. He never gives up no matter what." If there is a setback, it is that he cannot hear the voices of his loved ones.

Miss Oon said: "I use sign language with him, even when we argue, but with my parents he lip-reads. He says he wishes he could hear us speak and express emotions freely."


Supportive as they are, the family could not help but worry when Mr Oon went on his first solo trip to Hong Kong in December last year. But he assured them that he had friends who are deaf and who had done the same.

In April, he went on his second solo trip - this time to Seoul, South Korea.

He said: "(In Seoul) the language barrier is an even greater challenge. Some South Koreans generally do not speak English and would try to ask for help by calling someone but I couldn't take calls.

"Still, it was exciting and fun being exposed to a different culture. I was not afraid to try communicating via a translation app on my iPad."

Mr Oon said he is grateful that accessibility services for the deaf in education are gradually being made available and hopes to see even better changes in the future.

"I hope Singapore will be able to provide captions on videos for lectures (so that we are able to understand better)," he said.


This article was first published on Aug 11, 2015.
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