Sunflower oil, fishball, plastic fork and sunscreen.
These are words scribbled on Mr Louis Chua’s notepad as he goes from aisle to aisle in the supermarket.
But Mr Chua, 52, does not use his notepad for his shopping list. He uses it to communicate.
Deaf and unable to speak, Mr Chua, a store assistant at FairPrice Finest’s Changi Airport Terminal 3 branch, communicates with his colleagues and customers by writing in his notepad or using simple hand gestures.
His store manager, Mr Philip Ang, 47, says Mr Chua is popular among his colleagues and customers.
Mr Ang says: “Many regular customers look for him when they need help.
“He offers to help customers carry their groceries all the way to the departure halls.”
Mr Chua, who has been working for FairPrice for over 30 years, recently became an Internet celebrity after he was featured in a video on its Facebook page as part of its campaign to make lives better.
The video, which shows Mr Chua serving customers at the supermarket, has garnered over 138,000 views and over 500 shares since it was posted about a week ago.
In a written interview with The New Paper on Sunday, Mr Chua says he faced difficulties when he first started working.
He says: “I initially felt hesitant to communicate with customers because I cannot speak or hear.
“I was afraid they would not understand me.”
Mr Chua says working at the Changi Airport branch is a unique experience.
He explains: “I get to interact with locals who shop here and tourists who are visiting Singapore.”
Ms Priscilla Chew is one of the local customers.
The 36-year-old customer service officer says she has known Mr Chua for over a year and always greets him when she is in the store.
She says: “I like him because he is always smiling and friendly.
“Despite his limitations, he really goes the extra mile to serve customers.”
Mr Chua was not born deaf. He suffered a high fever after he turned one, resulting in his loss of hearing.
He studied at the Singapore School for the Deaf for nine years, learning sign language.
His job today involves customer servicing, replenishing stocks and housekeeping duties.
But his favourite part of the job is seeing the faces of satisfied customers.
He says: “I feel happy when I see customers complimenting my service and walking off with a smile.
“One time, I assisted customers to pack and tape their purchases nicely in a box, and I even assisted them to push it to the designated location.
“Their appreciation for my service and the thanks I received really made the interaction unforgettable.”
Mr Chua lives with his older brother and sister in Little India.
His 59-year-old brother works at FairPrice’s Whampoa branch.
His sister, Ms Chua Hong Ee, 57, an office administrator, says she was initially worried when he first started working.
She says: “I was thinking, ‘How will he communicate with customers when he cannot hear or speak?’
“But now, hearing all the positive feedback he receives, I am relieved.”
Ms Sylvia Teng, executive director of The Singapore Association for the Deaf, says it is commendable that Mr Chua has been with the same employer for over 30 years.
She says: “It is a clear indication that he enjoys good relationships with his employer and his colleagues.
“His commitment underlines his sense of loyalty and good work.”
Mr Chua says it takes times for people to get used to communicating with those who cannot hear.
He says: “I’m able to manage my work well because the colleagues and customers know me well and are familiar with my communication style.”
His message for working with deaf people?
“Though it might take a bit more patience, just take your time and we are more than happy to talk to you just like everyone else,” he says.
Deaf people face job difficulties
Individuals who are deaf are employed in a diverse range of industries such as administrative, creative, accounting, engineering, and information technology, says Ms Sylvia Teng, executive director of The Singapore Association for the Deaf.
But many face difficulties in getting jobs. Ms Teng adds that even when employed, a lot of them are not given fair opportunities.
She says: “Employers may be reluctant for deaf staff to take on leadership roles due to the additional efforts required, such as engaging in note-taking or sign language interpretation.”
Possible reasons include the lack of understanding and experience of employers on how to engage and communicate with deaf staff, Ms Teng explains.
She has tips for interaction when working with or being served by people who are deaf:
- Check with them if they understood what was said by writing it down and showing it to them.
- Be direct. Ask them: “Are you okay?”, “Any problem?” or “All good?”
- Repeat instructions or have the deaf person repeat it back to you, or demonstrate the task or job he is supposed to do.
- Use video tutorials or work demonstrations for job training.
- Engage a sign language interpreter for job training.
This article was first published on May 22, 2016.
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