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People with disabilities in Singapore just want to be treated normally

Like anyone else, it's their interests, personalities and desires that define them

By Tay Shi Ting | Apr 13, 2017

  • People with disabilities in Singapore just want to be treated normally
    Photo credit: Flickr user Steve Johnson (@artbystevejohnson)

More and more attention is being placed on people with disabilities in Singapore. Breaking the Sound Barrier, started by four students from NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, started the initiative in a bid to break the notion that the hearing impaired are less capable than those who can hear. 

They had recently held an escape game event on Feb 25 at Lockdown Singapore, where participants could only communicate through whiteboards and sign language. 

Meanwhile, Project This Ability, a campaign supported by ActiveSG and National Youth Council wanted to encourage more people with disabilities to participate in sports. You might have spotted their signs strategically placed at waist levels at MRT stations around Singapore promoting Para-sports Day which took place on Mar 4. The Singapore Disability Sports Council too, in support of the community, recently announced a $20 million plan to develop disability sports over the next four years.

Despite these efforts, more can be done, especially when it comes to breaking stereotypes. We spoke to four persons with disabilities and found out about their views on the media portrayal of people with disabilities here and the daily challenges they face. Spoiler alert, these are not your usual sob stories. 

Yeo Chi Jin, Alfred, 38, Accounts Assistant

What are your hobbies and interests? 

Reading and surfing the internet. Love aviation and Star Wars.

What is your disability and what are its symptoms? 

I have profound deafness in both ears. My parents told me I had high fever when I was young. They only found out I was confirmed deaf when they took me to the doctor at Singapore General Hospital.

Share with us one challenge you face on a daily basis. 

Singapore has a long way to go to be an inclusive society. Things are not fully accessible for me, like when TV shows or movies are missing subtitles. I also think we need adequate communication support services like sign language interpretations. I need an interpreter during seminars or workshops to get information across.

What is one common misconception people have when interacting with you and others with disabilities? 

They assume that I can lip-read. This is a bad assumption. I am not 100% perfect in reading lips. In fact, many hearing-impaired people do not read lips. Two words – “pager” and “major” would have the same lip movements. Other examples of words are “colourful” and “I love you”.

What is your opinion on the portrayal of people with disabilities by the media? 

The media should highlight the inclusion of PWDs in mainstream society and how the society view PWDs as members of the community in Singapore. There is no need to be inspired by the abilities of PWDs for being different or “unique”. We just want to live independently and be part of the society.

Harrison Gan Zhi Hao, 25, part-time Starbucks barista, also applying for a place in SUSS

What are your hobbies and interests? 

Besides playing table tennis, I also like to make latte art.

What is your disability and what are its symptoms?

I am born with a deformed right foot. So basically, my right foot got tangled with the umbilical cord when I’m in my mother's womb. As a result, my right foot is deformed with only half the left foot size and have no toes.

Share with us one challenge you face on a daily basis.

I think it would be balancing when I’m walking. This is because of the lack of surface area on my right foot. As a result, my leg will always hurt at the end of the day, and especially if I trained.

What is one common misconception people have when interacting with you and others with disabilities?

Rather than misconception, I think it’s more of people not knowing how to react when interacting with people with disabilities. They often find themselves awkward during conversations. Actually, I just want to them to know we are just like anybody else and might even be more understanding [than most].

What is your opinion on the portrayal of people with disabilities by the media?

I feel that the media could help to encourage sports among PWDs more because sports is a good way to promote inclusion and a healthy lifestyle.

Jamien Wong, 20, polytechnic graduate and table tennis player

What are your hobbies and interests? 

Sports, gaming and hanging out with family and friends. 

What is your disability and what are its symptoms? 

Adam Oliver Syndrome. Deformed hands and feet due to birth without skin. Born without skin on some parts of the scalp, back of the body, hands and feet.

What is one common misconception people have when interacting with you and others with disabilities? 

I feel people tend to see us differently just because our looks are different. At times, the way people look at me just make me feel uneasy about myself. 

What is your opinion on the portrayal of people with disabilities by the media? 

I feel that the media is trying to be more inclusive. They are starting to accept people with disabilities and even see them as inspiration figures.

Shannon Heng, 15, student and para-shooter

What are your hobbies and interests? 

Other than shooting, I also enjoy watching football, listening to music and playing the guitar.

What is your disability and what are its symptoms? 

I was born with spastic diplegia, a condition under cerebral palsy. Some of the symptoms include the lack of muscle coordination, tremors or involuntary movements and delays in motor skills milestones.

Share with us one challenge you face on a daily basis.

Due to my condition, I have difficulty trying to balance myself when I walk. Simple tasks like holding a cup of water or a plate of food is challenging as I'm unable to balance myself. I will end up spilling the food. Thankfully, my friends in school are very willing to assist me during my recess or lunch break.

What is one common misconception people have when interacting with you and others with disabilities? 

People only see us [with] our disabilities [but that's] just the surface. Most of the time, many don't realize that there are more challenges behind the impression they have on a certain disability.


Be part of the change at the inaugural TRUE COLOURS, organized by local charity organization Very Special Arts in collaboration with The Nippon Foundation. TRUE COLOURS is a festival celebrating local and international artists with disabilities – from singers to theater practitioners – happening from Mar 22-25, 2018

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