Not boxed in by disability
He swims and plays bocce. He has tried archery and horseriding. He has even given powerlifting a go. But the sport he loves best is boxing.
On his passion, 17-year-old Keith Tan says: “I have loved combat sports since young, so taking up boxing is natural for me. I find strength when I’m doing it, and it trains my mind to be sharper.”
Indeed, strength may be an important attribute for most teenage boys but for Keith, a second-year student at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) @ Simei, it is especially significant because he has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy.
A different childhood
He was diagnosed with the neurological condition when he was one.
“As a baby, I wasn’t that active. I wasn’t rolling around or crawling. I would just lie there. My aunt was the one who first noticed it. So, my mother went to the doctor to see if this was cause for concern. The doctor then told my mum that I have cerebral palsy.”
The condition affects muscle control and coordination – it increases muscle tone such that a person’s muscles become stiff, and reflexes are exaggerated. Motor or movement milestones tend to be delayed too.
For Keith, this means that doing “even the simplest stuff” has been a challenge. He requires help for daily activities like bathing, getting dressed and visiting the toilet, and moves around in a wheelchair.
“My movements, especially waist down, are restricted. I can’t stand with both hands free. One hand has to be holding on to something for support. Speech is another thing. Sometimes my voice sounds strained because my muscles tense up.”
To help him, Keith always has a domestic helper by his side, even when he goes to school. However, he shares that having an adult supervising his every move has put a dampener on making new friends.
“I can’t be myself because there is always someone there. So, I am more guarded and that has contributed to my introverted nature. But I want to change that as I get older. I want to be more independent.”
Ticked the right boxes
Keith having a post-session debrief with his boxing coach after his training.
In October 2019, Keith decided to take up boxing, a sport that had intrigued him for a long time.
In his search for a school that would take him in, Keith chanced upon the Spartans Boxing Club. He wrote in without much expectation, but was warmly welcomed by the owner and he soon started lessons.
However, as Keith progressed, he realised that his wheelchair was not ideal for the sport, and he needed a sturdier wheelchair that could move around better. This was tough for his single mum who works in F&B, as a new wheelchair could easily cost up to a five-figure sum.
With assistance from the Mediacorp Enable Fund, Keith was able to buy a customised wheelchair that can support him better as he spars and trains. The new wheelchair is also lighter, making it easier for Tan to manoeuvre as he goes about his daily activities.
For the aspiring programmer who intends to further his studies at a polytechnic after he graduates from ITE, boxing seems to be the sport that has ticked all the right boxes for him.
“This is something I can do for the long haul, and I am grateful to be able to receive help from MEF to buy a new wheelchair so that I can continue my passion.”
Heng Lye Nging has not had it easy. Her only child, Lina, was born with developmental delay, autism and hearing impairment, something she only confirmed when her child was three years old. Lina is now 24.
“I suspected something was wrong because she wasn’t behaving like other children. She started babbling at eight months but stopped soon after. She never learnt to walk. She didn’t play with other children,” recalled Madam Heng.
It took several visits to various hospitals before Lina’s disabilities were diagnosed. Madam Heng’s in-laws could not accept the girl’s condition and her marriage broke down soon after.
Although she was entitled to both alimony and child support after the divorce, Madam Heng never demanded either.
“If my ex-husband has money, he will give me some. If not, I don’t ask,” she said. “I only ask that he takes Lina out every weekend to spend time with her. That was my only condition.”
Left to support Lina on her own, Madam Heng began to work at coffee shops as a stall assistant, often clocking in 12- to 15-hour shifts.
“We try to make ends meet. Lina’s not picky. When I don’t have enough money, I feed her canned sardines and she is just as happy,” smiled Madam Heng.
“On her birthday, she gets to eat KFC or McDonald’s. She likes that and I buy her a little cake to celebrate. We do this only once a year. That’s all we can afford.”
Although Madam Heng did not make much, she made sure her daughter was well cared for. She hired a maid to watch over Lina when she went to work and trained the maid to care for her special needs child who, by her own admission, is not easy to manage.
“She throws temper tantrums when she can’t get her way and won’t take no for an answer. She hits people as well. The older she gets, the worse the tantrums have become. She also gets restless and refuses to sleep at night, choosing to pace the room or raid the refrigerator for food.”
As a result, they have not been able to retain their maids for long. The constant change of maids has been difficult on Lina as well.
“She will chase the new maid out of her room, refuse to eat or become violent. At times, she will vent her frustration by throwing things out of her bedroom window. I had to put a net across the window because she refused to stop,” confided Madam Heng.
Still, she says Lina can be thoughtful.
“She may not be able to dress herself, bathe herself or go to the bathroom on her own, but she knows when she is loved and she can be sensitive to my needs,” Madam Heng said.
“When I come home from work exhausted or when I am sad, she can sense it and she will give me a hug. She won’t ask me for things like she usually does.”
Mother and daughter are so close they need neither words nor sign language to communicate.
“I can sense what she wants. It’s a mother’s instinct. Sometimes, just a look is enough for me to understand her.”
Then a year ago, Madam Heng sustained a fall. She hurt her leg so badly she could not work. Without a regular income, she could not contribute to her Central Provident Fund (CPF). Without money in her CPF, she soon fell behind on the payment for her Housing Development Board (HDB) flat. She resorted to small loans from friends but it was still not enough. She faced the real risk of losing her home.
Through St Andrew’s Autism Centre’s Day Activity Centre (DAC) where Lina has been attending since 2012, Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF) found out about Madam Heng’s plight. Aid from MEF helped Madam Heng tide through a very difficult period by financing Lina’s DAC fees, meals and transport for a one-year period.
“I am so grateful to MEF for their help. I don’t usually like to rely on others. I try not to ask my family to help us because Lina is my responsibility. I don’t expect others to take care of her,” said Madam Heng.
Asked about her hopes for Lina, Madam Heng is sober, “I live one day at a time. I don’t ask for much, just that she grows up peacefully. I don’t expect her ever to be able to work or take care of herself independently.”
10 years ago, Madam Heng made plans for the day when she is no longer around to care for her only child.
“I told my niece to sell my flat and use the money to pay for Lina to stay at a home,” said Madam Heng. “Until then, I will care for her the best that I can.”
These days, things are looking up a little. Madam Heng’s friend recommended her to a coffee shop and she is working once more.
“Lina is not be able to tell you what she wants or when she is not comfortable. All she will do is cry. As a mother, it is my job to figure out how to make her feel better. But when she is happy, she will give me a kiss.”
An independent spirit who fiercely protects and loves her child, Madam Heng may not often ask for help, but she is always thankful when people come alongside her to ensure that her daughter is continually being trained and engaged. The rest, like the glimpses of affection Lina is able to show, is a bonus.
Arising from the family’s dire financial situation, Lina’s DAC programme fee had been deviated to $100 monthly for several years. Since January 2017, the fee has been paid by a private donor as Mdm Heng is unable to manage the cost of programme fee and bus transport. Further assistance has been extended for the programme fee till March 2019. Other short-term assistance was also arranged to defray the family’s daily living expenses. The family’s financial situation has not improved. Mdm Heng foresees she will have difficulty with managing the cost of DAC and transport after March 2019.
In addition, Mdm Heng has no savings and exhausted her CPF.
In Feb 2019, MEF granted $3,000 as a last mile need, to help meet Ms Lina’s DAC programme fee and meal expense, as well as the balance bus transport cost, all amounting to $257.50 per month so as to alleviate the financial strain on the family.
Like many children, Akram Ramadan Misrawi, 24, began playing badminton because it was something his family did.
“I started out since young because usually my family would, especially during the holidays, invite me out to play badminton for recreation, under the void deck,” recalled Akram.
It did not matter that he was born with skeletal dysplasia and that the condition affected the development of his limbs so he could neither walk nor grip things properly.
“I can’t really hold [the racket] the way normal players do for most of the shots, so I have to improvise in a way that suits my disability,” he said.
His family encouraged him anyway.
“They know how active I am, they know how I like badminton, so they asked me to try it.”
Soon, fun family activity gave way to aspiration and Akram began dreaming of playing for Singapore.
“If you are competitive, you have scheduled training programmes,” he explained. “I like badminton so I want to increase my skills to more of a competitive level, instead of just hitting [the shuttlecock] around.”
In 2015, he began playing competitively. He was so good that two years later, he represented Singapore at the Asian Youth Para Games in Dubai.
But for this Nanyang Polytechnic graduate, there were limits to his aspirations. Beyond buying the usual sports equipment for badminton, he needed a special wheelchair.
“[The one I have] was more for basketball. The structure of the wheelchair is different which makes it not suitable for badminton”, Akram explained.
“If you move fast and suddenly break, you might fall over because of the weight. There were numerous times where I fell over while playing, so that’s why I decided to get a new wheelchair.”
A sports wheelchair for badminton would cost upward of $5,000, amounting to even $7,000 for a good one. It was money his family did not have.
This is the plight of many with disabilities. It is not the lack of ability nor ambition that stops them from living out their potential and fulfilling their dreams. It is the lack of finances and opportunities. At times like these, a helping hand can go a long way.
For Akram, that helping hand came from Mediacorp Enable Fund which sponsored a new wheelchair specifically designed for para-badminton players.
“It really helped to lift the burden off our shoulders and we didn’t have to worry about paying that amount of money,” said Akram, who is the second of three children.
“The new one is a bit lighter; you can move faster. Performance-wise I am able to focus more on the game.”
Now, Akram has plans to hit the big leagues and do Singapore proud.
“My goal with this new chair is to excel in my training and to one day participate in games such as Asean [Para] Games,” he said.
They were an unlikely team of trekkers. Some had cerebral palsy, others with autism, four were visually impaired and one needed crutches. All, however, were determined that no disability would prevent them from living life to the fullest. Empowering them to do just that was non-profit organisation YMCA Singapore.
“For the last 14 years, we have been organising Y Camp Challenge where we take people with special needs outdoors four times a year. This year, we decided to take it to another level,” said Steve Loh, General Secretary and CEO of YMCA Singapore.
Next Level Challenge
That new level was to climb Japan’s tallest peak, the nearly 4,000-metre high Mount Fuji, in August 2019. For able-bodied adventurers, that would have been an easy one-day expedition. For the 10 people with various disabilities, it would be a monumental two-day journey requiring the aid of volunteers, local guides and even a team doctor.
“We wanted something inspirational and aspirational, something that would uplift them and inspire them to reach beyond themselves,” said Mr Loh of their choice of destination.
To meet the challenge, the 24-member team trained together for three months, going for hikes regularly and even completing a vertical marathon that required them to race up 57 floors.
Added Mr Loh: “The training sessions were not purely physical. It was actually for the volunteers like us to figure out how we were going to keep up with them and the kind of help they needed.”
One of the participants, 46-year-old Chris Tan, has only five per cent of her vision left because of glaucoma which she developed in her teens.
“I definitely need a guide to be with me. My guide will be my eyes. She has to describe every single step to me, the rocks, the terrain to make sure I am able to manage the trail,” she explained.
Many also went the extra mile and trained on their own. Oh Siew May, 48, who has speech and movement difficulties because of cerebral palsy, took the stairs to get to her 25th storey apartment four times a week every week for months.
“I want to tell people that being disabled doesn’t mean we are unable. We can do everything that we want,” she said.
Next Leap Partners
Given the magnitude of such projects, organisations often cannot work alone. That is where charity funds like Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF) are able to come in. MEF was one of the sponsors of YMCA Mt Fuji Inclusive Expedition 2019, lending both financial support and resources to help fulfil aspirations.
Actress and Mediacorp’s Gold 905 DJ Denise Tan was one of the volunteers for the climb.
“I think a world in which we help each other achieve our dreams is a better place in which to live. If you can help just one person today with your gift, it’s still worth it. It’s life-changing and it goes both ways,” said Tan.
“I was paired with Chris. We ran together to build stamina, climbed stairs and did a few practice hikes up and down Bukit Timah Hill in preparation.
They are amazing individuals. They have this can-do spirit that puts us to shame and physically, they are very, very fit. They train longer and harder than any of us abled-bodied people.”
Next Climb on the Agenda
That kind of grit certainly came in handy during the actual climb, especially when the weather was not in their favour. Heavy rains during their ascent made the rocky paths even more of a challenge.
“I did not lose motivation because in my mind I always keep telling myself how to reach to the top to get some ramen inside of me,” said Harun Rahamad who has cerebral palsy.
Bone cancer survivor James Wong, 28, shared: “In a group, everyone moves at a different pace. I couldn’t really run to catch up with the team. But I hope that the climb will raise awareness about people with disabilities, that we can do beyond what we imagine.”
In the end, the team made it to the eighth station, just a little shy of the summit of Mount Fuji. Still, it was a win. They were able to raise $200,000 for future outdoor activities for the special needs community and they proved that with gumption and good partners, few things are insurmountable.
“异龙”突起！本地有这么一个由不同特殊需求的队员组成的龙舟队，他们在正式成立约半年左右便首次出征一年一度的星展银行滨海龙舟赛（DBS Marina Regatta），夺得坚韧不拔精英组公开赛的冠军！
异龙是社会企业Society Staples旗下的龙舟队，Society Staples 也获新传媒协立慈善基金（Mediacorp Enable Fund）的资助。
SINGAPORE — Mr Lim Han Ming’s face lights up as he talks about Kana Akira, the blue-haired hero created by the budding animator.
“The most dangerous person is the most silent,” said the 21-year-old of his anime character. However, he quickly clarified: “But he’s a good guy!
“He’s just an average joe, but when there is trouble…he’s all action, no talk.”
Perhaps sometime in the future, anime fans will get to see Kana Akira star in his own animation series, which is a goal that Mr Lim, who has mild intellectual disability, is earnestly working towards.
Since February this year, he has been attending a basic illustration course at game design institute MAGES Institute of Excellence, picking up the essentials of drawing. These include using perspective, effectively combining light and shadow in an image, and drawing the human anatomy.
Mr Lim, who works eight-hour shifts at a McDonald’s outlet in Woodlands four days a week, spends the rest of his time practising the additional tips that he picks up from watching Youtube tutorials. He draws sketches of Kana Akira on the graphic tablet that he saved up money to buy.
He also received support last October in the form of a S$3,000 grant from the TODAY Enable Fund, which helped to defray his course fees, and allow him to attend an advanced illustration course.
Diagnosed with mild intellectual disability at the age of nine, Mr Lim said his interest in animation came after he attended an ad-hoc workshop on basic animation organised by his school, the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Delta Senior School, when he was 17.
While he was trained to work in the food and beverage industry in school, he had always enjoyed drawing since he was a child.
“There were always sheets of paper lying around the house with my sketches on it,” he told TODAY.
Mr Lim credits his love for cartoons, in particular Donald Duck, for sparking his interest in drawing as he wanted to create characters that could similarly “come to life” on paper.
He also found the cartoon character’s exaggerated reactions fun to watch. “It’s so funny when he gets angry…but in real life you got to calm a person down (if that happens),” he added.
He may be a huge fan of Donald Duck, but Mr Lim’s bubbly disposition is nothing like the foul-tempered cartoon character. This despite a childhood riddled by sadness and tragedy, as he lost both parents to illness at a young age.
His mother died when he was just 10, and his father also passed away a year later in 2009. Mr Lim and his elder brother Han Long were put under the care of their paternal uncle and aunt, but his aunt died in 2012.
At Woodlands Primary School, where he was enrolled in before being transferred to Chaoyang School, he was frequently bullied by his classmates for being different.
Luckily for him, his elder brother was a pillar of support, as Han Long would skip classes to look after him if he refused to go to school. Other times, he would wait for his younger brother so that they could have dinner together.
“His brother has been a very supportive figure in his life,” said Ms Goh Wei Tin, the younger Lim’s job coach at Delta Senior School. She added that Han Long, whom Ms Goh met often during school consultation sessions, was only happy when his younger sibling was happy.
Ms Goh said Han Long, who is in his mid-20s and works as an Uber driver, is happy now that his brother has found some independence, and he encourages Mr Lim’s creative aspirations.
With the love and support from his brother, and his interest in animation, Mr Lim has come a long way from the shy teen who had trouble “regulating his emotions” and coping with stress, said Ms Goh, who was assigned to help Mr Lim about a year and a half ago.
Mr Lim was upbeat when asked about the greatest challenge he has faced so far. His answer, delivered without a hint of resentment over his troubled days as a child, was a more mundane one that many people struggle with: Time management.
However, the young man became bashful as he spoke about how Ms Goh not only helped him overcome his anxieties and come out of his shell, but got him enrolled in the illustration course at MAGES.
Ms Goh said she read about the TODAY Enable Fund in an email from SG Enable. Aware of Mr Lim’s fascination with animation, she helped him apply for it. “His financial situation was not the best…so we felt this would help him build up his interest and his confidence,” she said.
With the skills picked up from the course, Mr Lim dreams of getting an internship, or a job at Lucasfilm one day.
He learnt about the American animation studio, famed for their Star Wars movies, after watching a news report about the company opening its Singapore office at Fusionopolis.
“It’s so cool,” he said of the Clone Wars, an animated spin-off from the Star Wars movies. “And it’s not just the animation…it’s the story-telling.”
If he had his way, there is one thing he would fix in the series, as he added: “The fight scenes are too slow!”
SINGAPORE — At the Singapore Latte Art Championship held at Marina Bay Sands last month, Ms Nuraqilah Fatin Swat found herself pitted against professional baristas Kinsmen Coffee and House of Robert Timms.
Refusing to let nerves get the better of her, the 23-year-old weaved elaborate designs such as a peacock with coloured feathers, a double winged-swan and inverted tulips.
The “scariest” point in the competition was when she encountered a technical issue when steaming milk. Although Ms Fatin could have called for a time-out, the shy and soft-spoken woman, who has mild intellectual disability, decided not to do so as the pressure of everyone watching was too nerve-wracking.
Despite some fumbles and spills and the design not turning out as well as she hoped, she managed to place 13th out of 20 contestants.
Although initially disappointed, Ms Fatin said being onstage was the “most memorable moment”.
“I was proud of myself for making it that far,” she said.
Ms Fatin, who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability at the age of 10, has always loved creating art by painting or moulding miniature clay figurines. She is not a coffee drinker, but stumbled on latte art by chance in 2014 when her teacher at the Association for Persons with Special Needs’ Delta Senior School (DSS) shared a video in class.
Intrigued, she went on YouTube to learn more and got the chance to put her newfound interest into practice the following year, during a one-year internship as a barista at McDonald’s McCafe at Northpoint.
She started by using chocolate sauce and one end of a thermometer to make basic patterns, and went on to work at McCafe for another year after the internship.
“Every cup I serve, I try (to do my best) when creating the latte art”, she said.
Barista Nuraqilah Fatin Swat with her latte art. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY
With the help of her DSS teacher and job coach Rosnah Jumat, 32, Ms Fatin landed a job as a full-time barista at social enterprise Bettr Barista Coffee Academy last year.
She shuttles between its different outlets at NTUC Income Centre at Bras Brasah, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and DBS Plaza Singapura.
To prepare for the championship, Ms Fatin trained intensively under three trainers from Bettr Barista from January to March this year. She honed her technique in pouring, worked on consistency and tried her hand at more complicated designs.
She also received support in the form of a S$3,000 grant last year from the TODAY Enable Fund, which helped to defray competition, training, and equipment expenses.
Bettr Barista trainer Levina Wong, 27, who called Ms Fatin an enthusiastic and hardworking student, recounted staying up until 1am to practise with her in the lead-up to the competition. Ms Wong, who has observed Ms Fatin gaining more confidence, was also proud of her for maintaining her calm and not panicking during the championship.
The road so far has not been without challenges: Ms Fatin says she still struggles to work fast enough to complete her creations within the time limit, deliver her presentation speech to the judges and master new designs quickly.
She hopes to one day “travel round the world to learn more about coffee” and train under internationally renowned baristas such as her idol Caleb “Tiger” Cha, a Korean-Australian latte art champion who she follows on Instagram.
Mr Cha, who earned his nickname from his signature tiger patterns, was a judge at the recent Singapore Latte Art Championship and Ms Fatin was jittery with excitement when she saw him in real life.
She has set her sights on next year’s competition and also wants to pick up skills in pastry and dessert decoration.
To her teachers and juniors at DSS, Ms Fatin is already a winner, Ms Rosnah said.
SINGAPORE — Popular lullaby “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was the first song that five-year-old Anisah Daaniys, who was born blind, taught herself to play by ear on the keyboard.
Anisah was diagnosed with retinal dystrophy when she was three, and as a result of her condition, she is only able to make out large shadows in front of her due to her low light perception.
“She’ll listen to songs on YouTube over and over, go the keyboard and test out the keys one by one before making out the tune,” said her mother, Ms Nurul Zayani, 32.
Ms Nurul first noticed her daughter’s condition when she was a baby, as Anisah did not respond to the toys dangled in front of her.
While they were aware of Anisah’s condition, receiving their child’s official diagnosis from the doctors was still a blow to the young parents.
“When we first got the results, we were very sad, especially because she is our first kid, but I think it affected her grandparents even more because she is their first grandchild,” said Anisah’s father, Mr Muhammad Sufian.
“A lot of concerns crept into my mind,” added the 34-year-old.
He worried for his child’s future, and feared the day when he would no longer be able to care for Anisah.
His fears were compounded when Anisah’s younger sibling, three-year-old Muhammad Nabil Aydin, was also diagnosed with the same condition.
He said: “Right now, we are still young and both still working, what would happen when we’re older and not working, how do we take care of them?”
Mr Sufian and his wife both work as engineering specialists, earning a total of around S$6,000. Other than paying for Anisah’s school fees, the duo’s incomes also go toward supporting Mr Sufian’s parents, who live with the family.
The TODAY Enable Fund has helped defray Anisah’s education costs, as the five-year-old is a beneficiary of the fund, and she received S$3,000 in October last year. Her parents first learnt about the TODAY Enable Fund through the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH). A portion of the money went into buying a brailler — a typewriter for the blind with six keys, one for each of the dots in a braille cell — which cost S$1,800, even after subsidies.
With the help of the brailler, Anisah has begun learning how to spell words and form longer sentences.
The family has also engaged a teacher from iC2 PrepHouse, a charity that provides training programmes to help children with low vision and blindness, who home schools Anisah for an hour, three times a week. The lessons cost about S$60 a month. They chose this option because attempts at enrolling Anisah in kindergarten were unsuccessful as Ms Nurul found that not many pre-schools cater to children with special needs, and they also preferred one close to their home in Tampines.
Anisah’s parents also plan to use the funds to pay for Anisah’s singing lessons, as she enjoys singing along to the tunes she plays on the keyboard.
“We can see that singing and playing on the keyboard gives her joy, and it is her passion,” said Ms Nurul.
She added, with a laugh: “It is rare to have a quiet moment around her.”
Besides belting out tunes, Anisah has also taken to imitating characters from her favourite television cartoon programmes.
“Recently, her favourite is the cartoon Upin and Ipin, she would mimic the way the characters talk,” said Ms Nurul, referring to the Malaysian animated cartoon series on the adventures of a pair of fun-loving twin brothers in a Malaysian kampung.
Anisah’s cheery disposition, jovial attitude and infectious laughter has certainly helped her parents cope during the tough times, as Mr Sufian and Ms Nurul shared that explaining how things work to an inquisitive five-year-old can take double the time due to their child’s condition.
“(Other parents) can show their children how a spoon is used, but we have to get her to feel, touch the spoon, explain to her what it is, what it does, and guide her hands every step of the way,” said Ms Nurul.
Mr Sufian added: “The one thing that has helped us a lot is her character, it takes the pain away from us bit by bit.”
While Anisah has made some progress since she was first diagnosed with her condition, her parents acknowledge that their daughter is a long way from becoming fully independent.
For one, she still has not adapted to using her cane, which can be cumbersome and heavy for a five-year-old.
“As of now, she still prefers to follow people around,” said her mother.
The young couple are also hopeful that Anisah will be able to enroll in a mainstream primary school in two years’ time.
Mr Sufian said: “We know that the environment might be entirely different in primary school, and we are unsure how others will react to Anisah.”
“We just hope (that by enrolling her into a mainstream school), she will be able to study and catch up with the other kids,” added Ms Nurul.
As the TODAY Enable Fund marks its first anniversary in December, TODAY catches up with three beneficiaries to find out how their lives have improved with the help of the fund. In the last of three reports, Ms Stephanie Ow talks about plugging away towards her dream
SINGAPORE — Some four months ago, erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument) player Stephanie Ow, 21, was still relying on a four-year-old laptop to complete her readings and assignments.
“It was slow … I was worried, like, how am I going to get a laptop? Laptops usually are very expensive,” the second-year music student at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts told TODAY.
Ms Ow, who is blind, relies on the laptop and a screen reader – a software that allows the visually-impaired to read text with a speech synthesizer or Braille display – to read her notes and complete her assignments.
Her first laptop was a gift from a relative after she completed her N levels when she was 17. She used it mostly to listen to music, surf YouTube and check her emails. She also saves the PDF versions of her music scores in the laptop.
But as schoolwork started to pile up, she realised her old laptop started to freeze more frequently and her screen reader had problems reading documents on the laptop.
Amid plans for her family to start saving up for a better laptop, she received S$3,000 in April from the TODAY Enable Fund. The fund, set up a year ago and administered by SG Enable, supports efforts to enhance the education, skills and employment prospects of people with disabilities.
About S$600 was used to buy a new black Acer laptop while the rest was spent on transportation and to pay for her meals in school. Her paternal uncle drives her to school every day, often incurring Electronic Road Pricing charges, along the way.
Without the funding, Ms Ow said her family would have taken time to save up. Her uncle, who is a Taoist priest, does not have a regular stream of income from his work.
“My family and I were thinking we can try and save up to get a new one but, fortunately, there was this TODAY Enable Fund which can help me to get a new laptop… and it will be able to help me with my learning in future,” she said.
Ms Ow was diagnosed with retinal dystrophy when she was five. She lives with her paternal aunt and uncle in a four-room Sengkang flat after her parents left her there when she was younger.
Proving her naysayers wrong, Ms Ow now plays with the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra (SNYCO), where she is the only person there with visual impairment. She is also with the Purple Symphony, made up of musicians with and without special needs, and performed at this year’s National Day Parade.
Her teachers and peers had discouraged her from pursuing music after their secondary education, but she received a Deutsche Bank-Singapore Chinese Orchestra Music Scholarship that pays for all her training with the SNYCO and her fees for the three-year diploma.
With the help received so far, Ms Ow admits she feels added pressure to do well and live up to expectations.
She shared these concerns with her uncle, Mr Lee Leong Seng, 61, during car rides to school.
“I told her not to give herself pressure. If she can only achieve 10 marks, get 10 marks… she doesn’t have to achieve the 100 marks people ask of her,” he said in Mandarin.
Mr Lee was the one who introduced Ms Ow to the erhu. A fan of Cantonese opera, he finally signed up for dizi (flute) classes in Chinatown at the age of 54.
A few months later, he learned that Ms Ow, who was 14 then, had tried but failed to join the school’s Chinese orchestra. He decided to send her to the same music school for erhu classes, but had to give up his own music lessons as they could not afford it.
He now learns the dizi and yangqin (a plucked string instrument) on his own in his free time.
The sacrifice was worth it, said Mr Lee.
“I see her achievements today and feel that what I gave up was worth it. I’m happy and proud to see where she is now,” he said.
SINGAPORE — Eighteen-year-old Andrew Tan, who has muscular dystrophy, dreams of starting his own online greeting card business one day.
He wants to bring a smile to people’s faces in a role where his physical limitations do not matter.
Andrew received S$2,000 from the TODAY Enable Fund in May to support his school expenses at the Assumption Pathway School. The fund, set up a year ago and administered by SG Enable, supports efforts to enhance the education, skills and employment prospects of people with disabilities.
He stumbled on design by chance in 2014, during a three-day basic design course at the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore (MDAS). He learnt to sketch simple items like fruits on the Adobe Illustrator programme, and his interest was piqued.
Through a two-year course in desktop publishing at Assumption Pathway School, Andrew honed his skills further in the design of posters, brochures, advertisements, infographics, magazine covers and festive greeting cards.
He often trawls through Pinterest on his Macbook Pro for a dose of inspiration.
He graduated this year and is now attending a four-month design course at MDAS — part of the association’s Bridge programme which helps clients to develop life skills through vocational training.
MDAS has worked with organisations like online retailer GobblerShop. MDAS’ clients were tasked to help the retailer touch up or trim product pictures for its website, said MDAS’ executive director Sherena Loh.
MDAS’ clients who are trained to be graphic designers have also been tasked to help companies design their websites and greeting cards, for instance.
“Many children with muscular dystrophy have limited options for employment because of the severity (of their condition), so we expose them to a variety of (life and vocational skills),” said Ms Loh.
Asked why he is looking to start a greeting card business, Andrew said people can be “happy” when receiving them from friends and family. “The friendship can last very long and there is no conflict,” he said.
The young man, who zips around on an electronic wheelchair that he has dubbed his “Mercedes with 6.2 litre” — an upgrade from the manual wheelchair he used previously — is also passionate about cars. He hopes to start a website detailing each model in detail.
He is determined to exceed the expectations that some members of society have of the disabled.
“They will be shocked to know people with disabilities can be as useful and successful as normal people,” said Andrew, who wants to be a role model for his younger brother, 16, who also has muscular dystrophy.
The family used a small portion of the S$2,000 disbursed to purchase pens and files to store Andrew’s work. Most of it was used to hire a private van to ferry Andrew to and from Assumption Pathway School over three months. His wheelchair transport service costs about S$500 to S$600 each month.
Without the funding, Andrew’s father Albert Tan, 49, said the family would have to cut back on their expenses by eating out less often, for instance. The servicing technician takes his family out for meals about once a week, at times having the boys’ favourite food – sushi.
Mr Tan and his wife, a clerical officer, have come to accept their sons’ condition after the initial sadness and disappointment. They discovered Andrew’s condition when he was six, after they noticed he did not have the strength to walk and could not cycle. Their younger son, Anthony, was diagnosed around the same time after doctors conducted tests on the boys.
“As parents, we try to support, encourage and guide them… I just do whatever we can help them. They need to study and learn how to survive, and the most important thing is to live happily,” he said.
Mr Tan is thankful for the boys’ cheerful disposition. “They know their condition, they know what will happen to them… and they still live so happily, so we should be very grateful.”