An accomplished architect and an aspiring painter were among the 13 people with disabilities who were honoured on Friday (Dec 3) at this year’s Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards. The award celebrates their accomplishments and potential.
At 20 years old, Fathima Zohra was a fit and healthy student, part-time model and social media influencer. The young Singaporean was on the cusp of her life.
And then one day, during a trip to India, the car she was riding hit a tree. Zohra was instantly thrown from the backseat to the windshield.
Life as she knew it changed forever.
“I was instantly paralysed from the neck down. I had a minor brain injury, and a very severe spinal cord injury – every muscle that is below my neck was paralysed, meaning the muscles that should help me breathe, were affected too,” shared the 24-year-old, who also goes by the name Zoe Zora.
As she faced the reality of her injuries, she became “an emotional, mental and physical wreck”.
“For a long time, I didn’t really want to move forward in life,” she shared with CNA Lifestyle. “I didn’t know who I was anymore”.
Most people think she’s a paraplegic, she explained, since she can move her arms.
“But I have limited function in my limbs and I’m constantly in a lot of pain. Any amount of paralysis in the upper limbs classifies you as a quadriplegic,” she explained.
It may sound like the scariest word in the world, but the fighter in Zohra has since come to terms and even embraced her situation.
Suddenly becoming disabled might be “one of the most heartbreaking experiences (Zohra) had to go through”. What it took was a demoralising doctor with terrible bedside manners to turn things around for her.
A year and a half into her injury, she went to see an orthopaedist. At this point, she was recovering and starting to feel better.
“I was so joyful, I asked him when I was going to walk again,” she candidly shared. “And do you know what he did? He laughed at my face and told me I had very great ambitions.”
Zohra went home and broke down.
“I was 21 years old then and I was so motivated to get better, but this put me down so bad. It made me feel terrible,” she said. “Isn’t a doctor suppose to make me feel better?”
The entire episode turned out to be her biggest motivator.
“Yes maybe I can’t ever walk again, but it’s not like I can never do anything ever again,” she shared. “ That’s when I said to myself that ‘I’m not going to let somebody else tell me what I am capable of’ and I took it into my own hands.
“It was my turning point. You know, he may have said this. And I love proving people wrong,” she added with a smile.
That’s when Zohra’s whole fitness journey restarted. She decided to join the gym, did more physiotherapy and took it upon herself to become stronger physically.
Four years after that fateful accident, Zohra now works full-time as a programme manager at Runninghour, a sports co-operative which integrates people with special needs through running. She’s also an active disability and mental health advocate who still manages to find time to continue modelling. And run an Instagram account (@zoraaax6) filled with motivational captions, beauty favourites and her inspiring fitness journey for her thousands of followers.
It’s through the process of coming to terms with her condition that she found a new purpose and a voice. And she’s been very vocal about it.
“I’m so loud about my disability because I want people to get comfortable with seeing people with disabilities everywhere,” said Zohra. “You’ll see me at the beach, you’ll see me at restaurants. And I do this in hope that society starts treating disabled people as part of society too, you know? Because we can co-exist.”
There have been daily incidents which prompted her to speak up.
“I live with a very visible disability. I work full-time and I’m constantly outside in public places. And because I use public transport, it has called for a lot of questions from people who randomly approach me asking me what happened to me,” she explained.
“Not many people realise that a personal question like this would mean that I’m being taken right back to that traumatic experience in my life. It could affect me mentally even if I was having a happy day before.”
Other deeply affecting incidents include strangers coming up to touch her legs asking if she can feel it.
“It’s hard being a woman in today’s society, but can you imagine being a disabled woman?” she said. “So I decided to fight for better representation. I don’t want any female to ever feel the way I did as a disabled woman.”
Advocating for the disabled and educating the able-bodied about being inclusive has been key for Zohra, who received the Goh Chok Tong Enable Award in 2019.
The award is a Mediacorp Enable Fund initiative that aims to recognise the achievements of persons with disabilities.
“Society immediately sympathises or pities us, but what we require more is, I think, just encouragement. It makes a huge difference for anyone with a disability,” she said to CNA in 2019 after receiving the award. “This award is giving us a lot of power. Because with this, we are motivated to change the perception of society.”
That’s why it was important for Zohra to be part of movements that raise disability awareness. In fact, back in September, she took part in a fundraising activity for the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD). The event was a 72km trek across Singapore on wheelchairs and she was one of two participants who were wheelchair users.
Despite suffering chronic pain and side effects from her medications, Zohra said lending her voice to various organisations such as SPD, the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore and Make The Change keeps her going.
So how can Singapore better embrace the disabled community?
“Advocate for accessibility when you don’t see it. Question and check with management, authorities because it doesn’t have to be just our fight,” she said.
For Zohra, the most important thing she wants Singaporeans to know is that people with disabilities (PWDs) are “people first, before our disabilities”.
“We are not what happened to us,” she said. “Singaporeans can be more understanding, kinder and try to educate themselves by asking the right questions. Look at us without pity, and as people who can achieve just as much as everyone else.”
Megan Tang has always loved to dance since young.
SINGAPORE — In 2017, Megan Tang became the first dancer under the age of 18 to be accepted into the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) Fusion Dance Enrichment Programme.
This year, the 16-year-old added another feather to her cap: She was selected to be a part of the Special Olympics Singapore DanceSport team, which is preparing for upcoming competitions, such as the 2023 summer games in Berlin.
For Megan, who was born with Down syndrome, it felt like a dream come true since she has always loved to dance since young.
“I felt happy and joyful when I heard I was selected for the team since I would be competing with people from many countries,” said Megan, who studies at the Association for Persons with Special Needs Tanglin School.
She was among last year’s recipients of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards, which recognises persons with disabilities.
The third edition of the awards – an initiative of the Mediacorp Enable Fund – is making a return this year with award organisers launching a public call for nominations that will close on Aug 31.
The awards comprise two categories: UBS Achievement and UBS Promise.
The UBS Achievement award is given to persons with disabilities who have made significant achievements in their own fields, with up to three individuals being awarded S$10,000.
The UBS Promise award, which Megan won, is given to persons with disabilities who have shown potential to reach greater heights in their areas of talent, with up to 10 individuals each receiving S$5,000.
“I felt honoured to receive the award,” said Megan, who dances four times a week at various dance studios in Singapore.
Besides dancing for the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) Fusion Dance group, the Diverse Abilities Dance Collective, and practising for the Special Olympics, Megan is also enrolled at a private dance studio to dance with children with no disabilities.
“Initially, there were some dance movements that Megan found challenging due to her shorter limbs and height,” said her mother, Ms Jasmine Lai, 47, who works in the government sector.
She added that while Megan had some meltdowns at the start, she was able to “gain back” her composure and continue with practices.
“For Megan, it can be quite tough. But she never gives up.”
When asked if she ever feels exhausted from dancing so frequently every week, Megan said that dancing does not tire her out.
“It makes me feel relaxed… I gain energy from practising,” she said.
Mr Joshua Tseng has thrived in the field of public speaking, advocating for the visually impaired community.
VISUALLY IMPAIRED PUBLIC SPEAKER
Another recipient of the UBS Promise award last year was student Joshua Tseng, 23, who was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma – a disease in which high fluid pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve – when he was seven.
By the age of 16, Mr Tseng – now a student studying information systems at Singapore Management University – had only around 10 to 15 per cent of his vision left.
Right before he graduated from secondary school, a doctor told Ms Tseng that he might not be able to further his studies and might have to consider working as a masseur.
“I was very offended… it’s a bit insulting to be told that it’s your only option,” Mr Tseng said, adding that this conversation with his doctor made him want to “prove people wrong”.
Despite his deteriorating eyesight, Mr Tseng has thrived in the field of public speaking, advocating for the visually impaired community.
He is particularly passionate about the importance of accessibility, a topic he talks about at events such as TEDxYouth talks in schools.
Mr Tseng has also spoken at a Microsoft event last year, where he emphasised the importance of accessibility for the visually impaired.
“This directly affects me on a daily basis… I will open an application or a website and find that it’s just not accessible for screen readers (a software that reads out the text displayed on the screen),” he said.
Ms Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha has taken part in boccia competitions around the globe – including the London and Rio Paralympics in 2012 and 2016.
TWO-TIME BOCCIA PARALYMPIAN
Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy – which refers to a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and damage to a person’s muscles over time – as a young child, Ms Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha, 36, had been using a wheelchair to get around since primary school.
She later learnt as an adult that she had spinal muscular atrophy Type 2. Both muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy Type 2 are types of neuromuscular disorders.
Despite this, and never being able to walk, Ms Nurulasyiqah has gone on to take part in boccia competitions around the globe – including the London and Rio Paralympics in 2012 and 2016, where she finished in seventh and fourth place respectively.
In 2004, Ms Nurulasyiqah first started playing boccia, a precision sport that involves rolling or throwing a ball towards a target, when she joined the Singapore Disability Sports Council’s recreational team.
Since then she has captained the Singapore boccia pair team from 2008 to 2019 and continues to be a mentor to promising boccia athletes from the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore) through sharing her experience with them.
“I try to share with them the excitement of travelling (for competitions) but also give them a reality check that it’s not all going to be a bed of roses. There’s a lot of preparation and behind-the-scenes work,” she said.
Winning the UBS Promise award and being recognised for her efforts was an honour, Ms Nurulasyiqah said.
“I would like to continue being a meaningful contributor to my community and be an example to others with disabilities and (show them) what is possible if you dare to try.”
UBS Achievement awardees at the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards on Dec 3, 2020.
SINGAPORE: Nominations for the third edition of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards (GCTEA) opened on Thursday (Jul 8).
The GCTEA recognises the achievements of people with disabilities and motivates those with the potential to go the distance with their endeavours.
Nominations will remain open until Aug 31, 2021.
There are two categories: GCTEA (UBS Achievement) and GCTEA (UBS Promise).
The GCTEA (UBS Achievement) recognises people with disabilities who have made significant achievements in their own fields and serve as an inspiration to others. Up to three individuals will each be awarded S$10,000.
Additionally, to recognise the efforts made by nominating organisations which are Institutions of Public Character and government educational institutions, they will each receive S$5,000 if their nominee is selected as a winner of this award category.
The GCTEA (UBS Promise) encourages people with disabilities who have shown promise to pursue greater heights in their areas of talent and willingness to serve the community.
Up to 10 individuals will each receive S$5,000.
Nominees for both award categories must be people with disabilities, i.e. with physical disabilities, sensory disabilities such as visual impairment and deafness/ hearing loss, intellectual disabilities or autism.
They must also be Singapore citizens or permanent residents.
They have to be aged 18 years and older for GCTEA (UBS Achievement), or aged 12 years and older for GCTEA (UBS Promise).
The awards, an initiative of Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF), were launched in 2019 by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is the Patron of MEF.
The MEF, with Mediacorp as the official media partner, is a community fund administered by SG Enable. It is also supported by Tote Board as the founding sponsor and UBS Singapore as the principal sponsor.
A total of 29 people with disabilities have been awarded in two previous editions of the awards.
Associate Professor Wong Meng Ee, chairman of the GCTEA Evaluation Panel, said that since its launch, the awards have “recognised many extraordinary individuals who have overcome challenges to be positive drivers of change”.
“We are proud to showcase their accomplishments and potential, and hope others can also be inspired to realise their dreams,” said Assoc Prof Wong, who is also a board member of SG Enable.
“The public is encouraged to nominate deserving individuals with disabilities who meet the criteria for the present call,” he added.
Winners of this year’s GCTEA will be announced in the fourth quarter of 2021.
For more information about the awards, eligibility, nomination and evaluation processes, please visitthis website.
SINGAPORE: The second edition of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards (GCTEA) saw 16 awardees honoured in a ceremony at the Istana on Thursday (Dec 3).
The GCTEA celebrates the achievements and promise of exceptional people with disabilities.
“As a society, we can do more to support persons with disabilities in their integration into the wider community,” said guest of honour President Halimah Yacob.
“Many of you have truly exemplified the spirit of positivity and resilience. You have shown that persons with disabilities can also contribute and bring value to organisations, businesses and our society. Let us continue to provide persons with disabilities with opportunities to pursue their talents and aspirations.”
The ceremony was also attended by special guest Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong and Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli.
Now in its second year, the GCTEA saw more awardees, up from the 13 in its first edition. The awards were launched in 2019 by ESM Goh, who is the patron of the Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF).
“Through these awards, we want to show the world what our persons with disabilities can achieve, when given the opportunity to prove themselves,” said ESM Goh.
“We want to encourage more Singaporeans to welcome and integrate them in the community and in the workplace.”
Four people, aged 29 to 76, were given the GCT Enable Award (UBS Achievement), which celebrates people with disabilities who have made significant achievements in their own fields and serve as an inspiration to others. They received S$10,000 each.
In addition, S$5,000 was given to to recognise the efforts made by a nominating organisation – Very Special Arts – which nominated established pianist Azariah Tan.
Despite his hearing impairment, Dr Tan, the youngest awardee of this category at 29, has given inspirational talks and performances at fundraising concerts.
Twelve people were awarded the GCT Enable Award (UBS Promise), in recognition for their potential and commitment to serve the community.
The awardees, aged 14 to 35, received S$5,000 each.
“It is our honour to acknowledge the achievements and promise of these extraordinary individuals who are able to overcome their challenges, accomplish personal achievements and be a positive driver of change and inspiration,” said Mr Edmund Koh, President of Asia Pacific, UBS.
“Each and every one of the finalists are incredibly inspiring and extremely deserving of this award. A common denominator amongst all of them is their determination to overcome their difficulties and still care for their community.
“This quality is even more important during this time of the pandemic where they inspire us to continue to be resilient, courageous and stand united to help each other,” Mr Koh added.
Chief executive officer of Mediacorp Tham Loke Kheng said, “The awards recognises those who had overcome great challenges to accomplish incredible personal achievements and positively impact our communities. We hope that their grit and determination will continue to inspire others to maximise their potential in their respective fields.”
The awards is an initiative of the MEF, a community fund administered by SG Enable, with Mediacorp as its official media partner.
The awards is supported by the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board) as the founding sponsor and UBS Singapore as the principal sponsor, and comprise two categories: GCTEA (UBS Achievement) and GCTEA (UBS Promise).
The MEF is a charity fund that aims to help build a society where persons with disabilities are recognised for their abilities and lead full, socially integrated lives.
SINGAPORE: Thirteen people with disabilities were celebrated at the inaugural Goh Chok Tong (GCT) Enable Awards on Wednesday (Jul 3) in recognition of their achievements and potential.
The awards recognise the achievements of people across different disability types. It is an initiative by the Mediacorp Enable Fund, initiated by Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong in 2016 to bring about a “kinder and gentler Singapore.”
“Our vision is to change society’s perception of them, from seeing only their disabilities to recognising their abilities, promise and achievements,” said Mr Goh at the event.
“We should celebrate the accomplishments of persons with disabilities, and not only for the challenges they have overcome but also for who they are and what they have contributed to the country.”
The ages of the 13 recipients ranged from 14 to 82.
Three people were awarded the GCT Enable Award (UBS Achievement), which celebrates people with disabilities who have made significant achievements in their respective fields. They received S$10,000 each.
Michael Ngu, 62, was one of the awardees. Diagnosed with polio when he was five, Mr Ngu suffered permanent paralysis of both lower limbs.
Today, he is the president and CEO of Architects 61, an award-winning local architect firm, which helped design notable local buildings such as the AXA tower and Changi Airport Terminal 1.
He represented Singapore in hand cycling at the 2014 Asian Paralympic Games.
When asked about his feelings after receiving the award, Mr Ngu said he never thought he would receive an award like this.
Recalling his childhood in Kuching, Malaysia, Mr Ngu explained that he grew up with the stigma that disabled people are “essentially nobody”.
“This award, more than anything else I have achieved, is so much more meaningful,” he added.
“Because it means a lot, not just to me, but (it is) in recognition (of) a marked time when I think the disabled or the less fortunate may be inspired and encouraged.”
Former President of Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped Tan Guan Heng, 82, along with Paralympic athlete and youngest Nominated Member of Parliament Yip Pin Xiu, 27, were the other two award recipients in this category.
Ten people were recipients of the GCT Enable Award (UBS Promise), which recognises those who have displayed a high level of potential in a talent or skill. They each received S$5,000 to motivate them to reach greater heights.
When asked about what he would do with the money, competitive swimmer Wong Zhi Wei, 17, said: “I’ll use the money to support my sports career and save for my studies, because I plan to go to university.”
Zhi Wei, who is visually impaired, was Singapore’s first gold medalist at the Asia Youth Para Games 2017. He is currently chasing his dream of becoming a Paralympian and hopes to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
When asked about his message to others, he responded: “Dare to dream and dare to live.
“This award is a way to give us a voice, to give people with disabilities a voice and say, ‘we are here and we can do great things’.”
Social media influencer Fathima Zohra, 22, plans to use the award money to create awareness and speak up for a more inclusive society by producing advocacy videos for people with disabilities.
“I hope to record stories that need to be heard, and put it out to the public so that society is more aware of the challenges people with disabilities face, now that I have lived a life before my accident,” said the former model.
A traffic accident nearly killed Ms Fathima in 2017. She became paraplegic and was too weak to breathe, and doctors had to puncture her trachea to keep her alive.
“Society immediately sympathises or pities us, but what we require more is, I think, just encouragement. It makes a huge difference for anyone with a disability,” she said.
“This award is giving us a lot of power. Because with this, we are motivated to change the perception of society.”
Since its inception, the Mediacorp Enable Fund has supported 1,000 people with disabilities to enhance their employability and to pursue their aspirations. More than 7,000 Singaporeans have participated in its partners’ events to promote community inclusion for those with disabilities.
President Halimah Yacob, who graced the event, said that family members and caregivers are “an important group of people” who should be mentioned as well.
“I hope that with this new award, we will also continue to extend our utmost support to them, as they play a vital role in being pillars of support for their loved ones with disabilities,” added Mdm Halimah.
“I also hope that more caregivers can step forward to share their experiences and support each other.”
Mediacorp CEO Tham Loke Kheng said: “The awards recognise people in our community who overcome great challenges to achieve remarkable things and demonstrate that people with disabilities across different fields are driving change, progress and positivity.
“The awards are also an opportunity to celebrate the extended community of family members, carers and volunteers who support these achievers.”
Chairman of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards Evaluation Panel, Associate Professor Wong Meng Ee shares his thoughts on inclusivity in our society and the objectives of the Awards.
SINGAPORE: The Goh Chok Tong (GCT) Enable Awards was launched on Tuesday (Jan 15) to recognise the achievements and potential of people with disabilities.
It is an initiative by the Mediacorp Enable Fund.
“Our efforts to make society more inclusive should go beyond raising awareness and providing persons with disabilities equal access to opportunities to realise their dreams,” said Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong, who is the patron of the Mediacorp Enable Fund.
“We want them to be driven to succeed regardless of background. The Awards recognise, encourage and promote their contributions to society.”
There are two awards categories – the GCT Enable Award (UBS Achievement) celebrates people with disabilities who have made significant achievements in their respective fields. Nominees must be Singapore citizens or permanent residents at least 18 years old. Up to three individuals per year will each be awarded S$10,000.
Institutions of Public Character and government educational institutions will each receive S$5,000 if their nominees win the award.
The other category – GCT Enable Award (UBS Promise) – recognises those who have shown promise. and is aimed at motivating them to pursue greater heights in their areas of expertise. Nominees must be Singapore citizens or permanent residents at least 12 years old. Up to 10 individuals every year will each receive S$5,000.
Nominees for both award categories must be persons with a permanent disability.
The awards are supported by the Tote Board as the founding sponsor and UBS Singapore as the principal sponsor.
Said Mediacorp CEO Tham Loke Kheng: “The awards reflect the new ways that we are uplifting people of all abilities in our community. They celebrate diversity but also passion and determination. Mediacorp is committed to supporting persons with disabilities reach their full potential – through real, positive action.”
Added Associate Professor Wong Meng Ee, chairman of the GCT Enable Awards evaluation panel: “Persons with disabilities also have talents and aspirations. We hope that the Awards will spur more people with disabilities to work towards bringing their dreams to life and creating an impact in their fields.”
Nominations open from Jan 15 until Mar 31. Winners will be announced in July.
More information can be found on .